Aging Independently, Healthy & Safely With an Assist from Technology

Aging seniors have more to which they can look forward as they age than ever before.

They are healthier and want to enjoy their time pursuing different types of activities.

Technology has been trying to catch up and keep pace with them, helping them continue to pursue their dreams, making it even easier to live in the home of their choice.

One area where things have begun to improve for aging in place seniors is home monitoring.

The use of wireless technology, sensors and connectivity to family members has improved our seniors’ ability to remain independent longer.

There are many different ways caregivers can stay connected to their seniors, seniors can stay connected to healthcare professionals, and seniors who need more help to age in place can connect to the support they need.

Home Monitoring Systems

Home monitoring allows seniors and healthcare providers to better manage their health and prevent complications or hospitalizations by working together.

The doctor is a button push away. The healthcare team can connect on a routine basis to monitor vital signs, symptoms, medication management and other health parameters to treat in a timely way and avoid preventable health issues.

Seniors are becoming more confident about their tech savviness and feel more comfortable using these devices to connect with family and health professionals.

One study found that, by using home monitoring devices for their health, seniors were able to reduce their emergency room visits by 38% for every 1000 participants. They spent 14 days less in facilities too.

Best of all, they saved $700 a month on healthcare.

How did this occur? Early and routine interventions to manage chronic disease and provide quick adjustments to treatment to prevent health crises keeps seniors healthier.

Determine What is Needed

Being able to age in place successfully will require seniors and family caregivers to really examine what they need to be successful.

  • Is it available to them in the current situation?
  • Is the home able to be modified for someone with mobility issues or to prevent wandering?
  • Are community support and services within reach for your senior?
  • Will there be transportation available to get them safely to and from when they can’t drive?
  • Are supportive family members nearby?
  • Is there a safety net of healthcare options including doctors, hospitals, outpatient facilities and pharmacies available that meet their needs?
  • Can their home access broadband connections to allow for use of the latest technology?
  • Are there healthcare providers who will connect using the latest technology?

Once you determine where aging in place gaps might be, can you fill them before it is too late?

Rural Seniors at Increased Risk

What will be needed by seniors who currently live in rural areas and don’t always have all the services to support them as they age in place the way that urban seniors do?

These rural seniors will be at increased health risk due to poor access to healthcare.

One study found that rural seniors took more medications and had a greater number of adverse drug events, had more chronic diseases, and had a shorter life expectancy.

It is interesting to discover that rural seniors were less likely to treat bone loss but took more pain killers. This could set them up for falls with injuries.

They often have fewer doctors and specialists, doctors have less staff to support them in their outreach efforts, and usually had a higher caseload per doctor. Rural seniors had to wait much longer to get an appointment.

Rural seniors were more likely to have a lower level of education and be poorer. They had much less access to public transportation to get them to a healthcare provider or anywhere else.

There is usually less access to walkable spaces and a means to remain physically active for seniors who are rural. Their urban counterparts were more likely to have a larger support network and socialization opportunities to help protect them against chronic disease.

Connected Healthcare for Rural Seniors

Will technology be able to connect healthcare providers to rural seniors so that they can get benefits from routine medical monitoring to age in place?

Of course, that requires the seniors have internet access, technology devices and the necessary training and support to help them use the devices intended to benefit them.

Rural community dwelling seniors are less likely to have broadband internet available than those in urban and suburban areas, which presents another challenge.

Rural seniors will need more help from family caregivers and responsive community providers to get them ready to adopt technology for improvements such as home monitoring to give them a safe aging in place experience.

What About Seniors Who Are Frail?

Will seniors who are considered frail be able to live at home, alone? What supports do they need?

Let’s determine what exactly is a frail senior. The dictionary defines a frail senior as someone over 65 who has functional impairments or anyone over 75 years.

“Frail” often connotes someone who has medical, nutritional, cognitive or activity impairments that limit their ability to be independent.

One new program whose results are being watched closely is called the Support and Services at Home (SASH) program in Vermont. It will provide aging in place seniors’ care coordination and basic services. It also provides primary care. The fees are covered by Medicare who pay the providers of this program a per month, per member fee for its operation.

The initial results show some promise but also some mixed results. The cost of Medicare spending was reduced for the participants but they accessed hospital services more than similar seniors not in the program.

Service Coordination Needed

All players, including providers of medical care and social services, government, and advocates for seniors, agree that improved coordination for all the services and supports seniors need, especially those who are already considered frail was necessary for their independence.

We continue to learn what works and what doesn’t as well as the barriers or financial disincentives in place that will prevent frail seniors from achieving aging in place success.

Hopefully we will find solutions to overcome these barriers sooner rather than later.