When it comes to senior health care, this is not our grandfather’s world. Telecare and home-based, “aging in place” technologies are radically transforming options for older adults—enabling them to take control of their health, stay connected to their care teams and families, and remain longer in their home of choice. At the same time, such emerging innovations are bringing peace of mind to family caregivers, providing the assurance that loved ones are monitored, supported, and safe at home. In the years to come, we can expect these technologies to grow exponentially, paving the way for a flourishing future in senior care.
Seniors discharged from the hospital or a rehabilitation facility are a vulnerable group. Even with the assistance of home health services, they often experience complications in their first weeks at home—and end up “boomeranging” back to the acute care setting. Almost 20% of discharged Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days at an annual cost of $17 billion. Studies have found that most of these return trips to the hospital are avoidable. The industry is looking for viable strategies to avoid costly acute interventions, extend the reach of shrinking clinical resources, and sustainably improve patient outcomes.
One solution for continuing care after a hospital stay is low-cost remote patient monitoring (RPM) programs. These technologies are proving their potential to enhance care by keeping a vigilant eye on patient conditions, automating communications with clinicians, and averting impending health episodes and emergency hospitalizations. Health care providers can diagnose and manage patients through video technology—tracking results regularly, adjusting care plans as needed, and providing ongoing clinical support in the home.
Many RPM programs equip senior patients with easy-to-use engagement tools, such as “instant-on” tablets and integrated Bluetooth wireless devices, that help in navigating such chronic conditions as heart disease and diabetes. The platform provides a ready path to virtual care teams, with one-touch videoconferencing for virtual visits and regular sharing of biometric data. Continually engaged through educational and coaching content, patients stay connected with, and committed to, their care plan. This engagement can make all the difference in senior health outcomes. Family members, too, can join virtual visits to participate in their loved one’s care and healing.
Enhancing senior self-care
Along with RPM innovations that help clinicians deliver better care to seniors, an abundance of technologies—beginning with the internet—are empowering seniors to better care for themselves. A seminal study found that only 3% of older adults have proficient skills in health literacy. Internet use is rapidly changing the picture as seniors access the Web to research their conditions, communicate with their health care providers, and connect with patient networks. According to Pew Research Center, 67% of adults age 65 and over are online today; 40% own a smartphone; and 32% have a tablet.
Internet use can also help combat senior depression, isolation, and loneliness—conditions experienced by 40% of older Americans and linked to a host of health problems. When face-to-face interaction is difficult, elders can readily connect with friends and family members through email and social media, along with video chat services like Skype.
For many seniors, taking medications correctly and at the right time is a daily challenge. Today’s pill dispensers are increasingly equipped with timers and alarms and can communicate with computers and smartphones, helping patients avert the consequences of incorrect medication use. Also, an array of health apps, such as Medisafe, RxmindMe, and Personal Caregiver, issue reminders that help deter missed medications, prevent dosing errors, and thwart a bounceback to the hospital.
Voice-based interfaces, such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and LifePod, can also provide medication reminders, keep track of doctors’ appointments, and alert a senior’s support network when help is needed. In offering a ready resource for health questions and concerns, these interactive devices can serve as virtual home health care aides, advising seniors every day—in a reinforcing way—what they need to do to take care of themselves.
Smart wearables offer seniors the potential for continuous health tracking, yielding personalized information for better health. For example, smart watches include features for health sensing, from heart rate for identifying early health risks to fall detection technologies and integrated cellular for voice communications. Looking forward, we can expect the homes of tomorrow to be equipped with built-in sensors and smart devices that facilitate senior health management.
Encouraging family members to be better caregivers
The Internet has also brought caregiving support to an entirely new level. Family caregivers can access a plethora of helpful articles from medical professionals, as well as obtain in-depth information from disease-specific sites. Through such resources as AgingCare.com, they can receive timely advice and emotional support from other caregivers.
Through home monitoring systems, family members can keep tabs on their loved one’s daily activities and identify any emerging problems. Wireless options such as Alarm.com Wellness and the Grandcare System are designed to detect emergencies, report unusual behaviors, and track patient vital signs. GPS technology, from apps to trackers that attach to the wrist or clothing, can trace a loved one’s whereabouts and prevent potentially hazardous situations.
On the horizon? Assistive robotics, bringing to the home intelligent robots that can guide seniors through the activities of daily living and relieve family members of many care giving duties.
Embracing technology’s future in senior care
The day is fast approaching when healthcare “anytime, anywhere” will be the norm, not the exception. With the senior population projected to grow by 55% over the next 15 years, health care providers will be stretched even further to treat an aging population, many with multiple chronic conditions, who will choose to receive care and support at home. The industry will need to prepare for a new type of aging patient: the tech-savvy consumer. Digital technologies will become more pervasive in helping seniors stay healthy and independent as they age —and in shaping tomorrow’s hub of healthcare delivery: the home.
Clay Aiena is chief information officer, StoneGate Senior Living and authored this blog with collaboration from Shannon Clifton, president, Care Navigation Services and Ellen Ford-Barton, senior vice president, strategy and operations, Care Navigation Services.
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