Technology has some catching up to do when it comes to meeting the needs of older adults, but the tech industry is showing real signs it plans to do just that.
Senior Care Corner is following the innovations that are poised to improve the lives of our current seniors as well as those of us who will be walking in their shoes sooner rather than later.
Family caregivers (and the seniors for whom they care) need an assist from technology to help them provide care, stay connected from a distance, and manage multiple medical challenges while still living their lives.
There continues to be much discussion about exactly what family caregivers need to help them meet the needs of senior loved ones and keep them safely independent as long as possible. The discussion encompasses not only products but also processes and government initiatives both locally and federally that can impact the lives of our senior loved ones.
The innovations need to be user friendly, cross platforms and be affordable for seniors and family caregivers – – or be covered by the seniors’ health plans.
The latest news about increasing life expectancy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could be considered a double-edged sword for family caregivers and those who help keep our senior loved ones healthy and safe at home.
Life Expectancy Report
The latest report, based on data collected by the CDC from 2012, tells us that we are moving in the right direction with improvements in health and wellness. This has made a great impact on reducing deaths from major diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes in the last several years.
- The average life expectancy has increased to 78.8 years
- Women have an expected 81 years of life
- Men have an expected average 76 years of life
What that means for our family members who were 65 in 2012 is that women can expect to live an additional 20 years and men an additional 18 years on average, with some living a lot longer.
The CDC reports that 8 of the top 10 causes of death had declining death rates: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease.
What this tells us is that we are making strides toward improving our health through improved lifestyle choices by becoming more physically active and eating a better diet. People are also quitting smoking and getting the medical attention and preventive health screenings they need.
What impact will that have on family caregivers? What about the healthcare system and government funded insurance? How will we be able to keep our seniors healthy and safe at home during their ‘golden years’?
Because the good news that our senior loved ones are living longer doesn’t change the fact that not everyone is living well, which will cause family caregivers to look for solutions to caring for seniors who may not be functionally independent at home or who need modifications to stay home safely.
Many of our senior loved ones are getting help from family caregivers like you to control their chronic medical conditions, seeking medical treatment or losing functional mobility as they age.
Living longer when our seniors aren’t at the peak of health means that many family caregivers will be spending more time in the role of caregiver, not only in the number of years spent but also the number of hours that care requires each year.
With seniors living longer and needing more assistance from family caregivers, it will be increasingly important to be able to face the future embracing the latest technology to help our seniors live healthy, engaged and independent lives.
Advances in Health & Wellness Technology
The numbers of seniors aging, both totally independently or with help from family caregivers, is growing rapidly, as we all know. Our seniors will need help from technology to get medical treatment, either in person or remotely using tele-health strategies and digital monitoring of their health and functional status, to continue to age in place.
An interesting statistic that can help drive future technology is that US adults over 50 control more the three quarters of the total wealth of the country.
Let’s review some of the advances and vehicles for advance that could help family caregivers and seniors now and in the future.
1) Smart care spaces
We see what is being described by some as “smart care spaces” to be an even smarter smart home, designed to meet the needs of seniors and others who need health services at home.
These intelligent homes are spaces that are sensored and linked to intelligent computer systems in the home care environment, constantly assessing the needs of those receiving care.
A smart space should include a means to proactively sense changes in comfort, symptoms and potential for interventions required in the person being monitored. A smart care space should also keep the person who is being cared for (in this case our senior loved ones) in an environment that is friendly and maintains their dignity.
Sensors could include monitoring of the living area, kitchen, and bedroom combined with tele-medicine and be monitored by all caregivers both family caregivers and medical personnel. The sensors should function in such a way as to uphold the elders’ independence.
The cost of a smart care space could be offset by the reduction in other medical expenses, a real savings to Medicare and other health insurance providers, when this proactive approach is taken. That gives us hope insurers will cover most, if not all, the cost and make this technology feasible for more seniors and their families.
2) Using big data in the fight against dementia
Supercomputers are being put into service to search through masses of medical data, including MRI results, blood work, and cognitive testing results, in the hopes of isolating any patterns that could link the development of dementia with a cause or contributor.
There is naturally a roadblock to this approach, namely security of a person’s private medical information, as well as ethical considerations. It could also prove to be a logistical nightmare given that there are over 35 million people worldwide diagnosed with neurodegenerative disorders.
Still, with that many people impacted and the number only increasing as the population ages, there will be many benefits from putting in the effort to address the issues and move forward.
3) Retirees become ‘tinkerers’ to drive innovation
We have long thought that much of the innovation to meet the needs of seniors and their family caregivers would come from those seniors themselves.
While many of today’s seniors grew up in a world without the internet, mobile, and other technology that will enable much of the innovation in care, that will not be the case with future seniors. Once those seniors-to-be retire and start experiencing issues associated with aging and health, many will utilize their newfound time to develop answer to those issues.
A recent study published at PLOS ONE is based on that same idea, that there will be more highly educated people with time on their hands who are more financially stable to create innovations that are useful to them and their peers.
Considering that life expectancy has again risen, there will be many years that retirees will need to fill with purposeful activities like invention. The retirees and their family caregivers will be primarily healthy and inquisitive about what technology can do for them according to the researchers.
4) Aging 2.0
Aging 2.0®, a self-described “global organization on a mission to accelerate innovation to improve the lives of older adults around the world,” was by Katy Fike, a PhD gerontologist, and Stephen Johnston, a Harvard MBA, both of whom has some time before they become seniors themselves.
Their goal is to improve the quality of life for seniors across the globe by using technology and the innovations that it brings. Aging 2.0 collaborates with entrepreneurs, tech companies, distributors and investors to create a network of innovators who can bring fresh ideas to seniors.
They have begun piloting many of their programs and products in senior care facilities and are closing some of the gap between technology and meeting the needs of seniors and family caregivers.
Aging 2.0 also has a Consumer Panel Community that includes people over 50 and those who care for them who are interested in innovation to help entrepreneurs develop products and services tailored to seniors. You might want to check it out.
Senior Care Corner – Family Caregivers’ Resource
We can look to a happy, healthy and long future enjoying our seniors, many of whom will live to be 100 and beyond. Family caregivers will be able to continue to provide support for their senior loved ones with the help of innovations coming to market.
We still consider this area of innovation to be in its infancy – – but it’s growing up rapidly, with great strides coming soon.
Family caregivers are beginning to embrace the technology, actually seeking it out and perhaps even getting involved in the process recommending — nay, demanding — from manufacturers how to best meet their needs as caregivers and future seniors.
Senior Care Corner will be a part of the process, learning about and recommending technological innovations for the benefit of us all.
We would love to hear your experiences about how you have adopted technology to care for your senior loved ones. We can all learn from each other!