Technological innovations designed to help seniors live longer, more fulfilling lives are starting to catch on—everything from companion robots to smart devices that can help monitor, alert, track and support our growing senior community, whether they are living in smart senior communities or in their own homes.
It is important for elder law attorneys and elder care professionals to stay on top of this evolving technology so we’ve created a live program to take a deeper dive into these issues.
Why the Timing is Right
According to recent estimates, the population of adults 85 and older in the U.S. will roughly triple between 2015 and 2060, making it the fastest growing age group over this time period. At the same time, there is a projected decline in the working-age population, meaning there will be fewer people to support the growing elderly population, financially and otherwise.
Just seven years ago, seven able adults were available for every senior in need of care. By 2030, AARP estimates that ratio is estimated to drop to 4:1 and by 2050, to just 3:1. AARP calls this the “caregiver cliff,” as mass numbers of Baby Boomer seniors who need care begin to outnumber those able to help them.
It is also estimated that the costs to provide health care may more than double between the ages of 70 and 90, depending on the region. With rising pressure on governments, payers and manufacturers to reduce healthcare costs, senior care needs solutions in order to be prepared for this impending rise in costs.
Virtual home assistants and portable diagnostic devices will be able to help provide better elder care, help control medical costs—and allow more seniors to stay in their homes longer.
How seniors will take to the technology may also be changing. A 70-year old may have first experienced some form of internet technology in middle age or later and may not be as accepting as someone who at age 50 is already far more comfortable with technology. As a result, there will be a growing interest and market for already available and maturing technologies to support physical, emotional, social and mental health.
The Internet of Things Defined
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the name given to the expanding network of smart devices currently connecting together in the digital landscape. Just as the Nest camera system allows us to monitor our homes remotely, numerous new technologies promise to connect seniors to care teams and other life-saving processes that can make their lives easier, safer and more enjoyable.
7 Specific Ways Technology Can Help
Wearable Tech and Implant TechnologyMany seniors suffer from cardiac ailments, diabetes and hypertension. Wearable tech includes cardiac and biometric sensors, and smart glucometers. They can track vital signs and send emergency emails or texts in real time to care providers if something is off track. Wearables can also detect low levels of movement and abnormal sleeping habits, allowing care teams to track behavior patterns and check on patients if needed.
Pacemakers and glucometers can be implanted directly into the senior’s body to track vitals, ensuring that the tech is always accurate. Because they are connected, data from wearables can be sent to the cloud, then analyzed and measured to find trends and insights for doctors and family members. Over time, for example, doctors might notice a decline in sleeping or exercise, or notice that insulin levels rise or drop at certain points in the day. Medical intervention can also occur immediately when required.
When the person is hospitalized, this technology can help nurses and off-campus physicians continuously monitor seniors’ vital signs without disturbing the patient.
Medication Adherence ToolsMost seniors take several medications. As they age, remembering to take everything at the appropriate time can become a challenge. Missing doses can exacerbate an existing medical condition and can lead to hospitalization. There are several products currently available that remind patients when to take their medication and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, which helps the healthcare industry save on costs.
Portable Diagnostic DevicesSeniors need to have biomarkers tested more frequently to monitor existing conditions, diagnose new ones and check on overall well-being. With portable machines so small that they can be stored at home, seniors can perform blood and urine tests at home instead of having to visit a pathology lab for the tests. The devices can then store, process and instantly send the data to care providers for analysis. The added convenience means seniors can perform diagnostic tests more frequently, helping to diagnose conditions and begin treatment sooner, preventing complications and saving avoidable healthcare costs.
Personal Emergency Responder SystemsPersonal responders have been around for some time, but the IoT has made them stronger and smarter. Today’s responders can detect a fall, or alert family members if a loved one with dementia has moved outside the specified or protected living area. They can also offer navigational assistance to help a senior return home safely. Remote monitoring lets caregivers keep an eye on their charges while they are away at work or running errands. One concept that goes beyond fall detection is that of ActiveProtective’s smart belt, which detects falls and deploys air bags to prevent fall-related injuries, then uses Bluetooth technology to trigger an alert to designated emergency contacts.
Disability Assistance ToolsThere are a variety of smart products designed to help with disabilities. For example, a hearing aid from Oticon features Bluetooth connectivity to a smart phone for calls or streaming music, and the ability to control volume and switch television programs with a smart phone app. Another solution for sensory- and cognitive-impaired seniors is Nominet’s PIPS that helps manage daily routines. The customizable colored buttons installed in seniors’ residences flash until the task that patients are being remined of is performed and the button is pressed by the user. Pressing a button activates the next button in sequence. Reminders may include daily tasks such as brushing teeth or eating a meal, or medical tasks like taking medication.
Smart CommunitiesAssisted living facilities and nursing homes are natural testing sites for new technology, and many are already using some to help caregivers provide better care. Data can be streamed to an analytics dashboard for nurses and doctors, who can monitor patients from any location. For example, an alert can be sent if a resident has gotten out of bed, has fallen, is wandering, has had a soiling event, is depressed, has a UTI or experiences an abnormal change in daily routine. Speakers or earbuds can play soothing sounds when a resident has an increased heart rate or is anxious. New wireless oxygen and heart rate monitors can also trigger soothing music to change breathing behaviors at night.
Strategically Placed SensorsSome of the new technology is based on sensors that are strategically placed around the home or facility instead of having the person wear a device. The sensors learn the senior’s routines and track behavior, eating and sleeping patterns, and activity levels, and report any deviations from routine. They can identify when people have differences in their gait, in their interaction and the way they communicate which can help pick up signs of depression and dementia much earlier.