We want to be healthy, energetic and happy as we age.
We want to live life as fully as possible, realizing it’s not about the years in our life but the life in our years.
Not just us but our seniors too!
The way to stay healthy is to avoid chronic disease and stay physically active as we age.
But what can we do to help our seniors age well, stay healthy, or control the chronic diseases which they have already been diagnosed?
Technology may be a key for our seniors and us as family caregivers trying to help them.
There is a growing volume of research currently being conducted into how we can use technology to improve our seniors’ health and safety at home.
In the past several years, numerous devices and smartphone apps have been developed with this goal in mind. But do they work? How can we ensure our investment of time and money in these will pay off in dividends?
Health Assist from Technology
The use of technology in medicine has been growing and is poised to accelerate with the advent of more devices and improvements in training, adoption, and breaking down barriers to adoption for physicians.
How can healthcare be delivered through technology for the benefit of our seniors? Let’s look at current interventions.
Telemedicine is the practice of medicine at a distance instead of in the same physical location. Such services include telestroke care during the most critical point in a stroke — the first hours. A doctor can direct care in the ambulance or other remote location to improve outcomes. Another telemedicine application is teleradiology, where images are sent elsewhere for reading by a physician in another location.
Telehealth allows people to obtain services, such as health education and monitoring, online. Monitoring vital signs remotely by health professionals will continue to grow as we try to control cost while providing medical care to everyone despite their location. It can help reduce hospital readmissions when health parameters can be remotely monitored and action taken quickly to prevent adverse events. Videoconferencing with a doctor or team is another way to use technology for health.
Mobile health (often called mHealth) occurs when we use mobile devices to obtain or improve health care delivery. We can use health apps to monitor our vital signs, connect with our healthcare team, send emails, receive alerts and reminders and learn more about our drugs or diseases.
Connected health encompasses all these terms.
Seniors and family caregivers may find benefits from utilizing each of these forms of connected health. Let’s look at some of the recent research that shows how our senior loved ones can benefit.
Heart Disease Improved with Apps
Heart disease continues to be the number one killer of men and women in America.
It kills more people than all types of cancer combined.
In the US, someone will have a heart attack every 34 seconds and someone will die from a heart disease-related event every 60 seconds.
Prevention strategies, including lifestyle changes and medication to reduce those statistics, are vital for our seniors and us, too.
A recent study from researchers in Australia was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). They found that regular text message reminders via smartphones can help people adhere to lifestyle changes that can improve cholesterol, blood pressure and weight for healthier living.
Encouragement via Technology
People who got regular automated text messages throughout the week were able to improve their bad LDL cholesterol level, blood pressure, weight and helped them quit smoking.
The text messages gave people motivation and encouragement, in addition to advice and education, to make behavior changes following a heart attack.
Half of the participants received four text messages each week for six months. The tips were geared to their individual risk factors, such as smoking or weight loss. They were often personalized with the individuals name as well. An example of a message is “Hi Mike, don’t forget physical activity is good for you!”
After the six months, LDL cholesterol levels were lower in those receiving the text message compared to the control group which did not receive any messages. Their blood pressures and BMIs were also lower. The smokers in the text message group went from 53% to 26% as well while the non-text message group only went from 53% to 43%.
Technology Impacts Lifestyle Changes
Researchers were pleased with the results indicating that technology has an impact on lifestyle changes and can help doctors better guide their patients in making healthy choices.
There are many health apps in the marketplace and few have been studied to show that their use can make a difference.
This study is a step in the right direction to understand the importance of technology for empowering us to make lifestyle choices we need to be healthier.
Researchers remind us that once the text messaging stopped, it is unknown whether the changes were sustainable and that in the future it would be important to continue to update the messages to be motivating and effective over time until the changes became habit.
E-pillboxes Improve Medication Adherence
According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists:
- On average, adults 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year and adults aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year;
- Adverse drug reactions and noncompliance to medication regimens result in 28% of hospitalizations for seniors, with 11% of those due to non-adherence; and,
- 32% of seniors suffer hip fractures caused by medication-related problems.
Medication mismanagement has been linked with up to 23% of nursing home admissions as seniors become unable to self-manage prescription medications at home.
A new study found that people who received electronic reminders to take their medication were less likely to miss a dose.
These alerts give visual, audio and tactile cues via a smartphone app that reminds a person that it is time to take prescribed medications.
Some of the study participants received a text message, some only alerts and a third group received both text messages and alerts. A control group received no reminders.
One in five patients who received no reminders missed doses. Those receiving only text messages didn’t have more success taking medications properly. However those that received both texts and alerts took their medications more correctly.
This study was performed in patients with TB whose medications are usually administered only in person with a health professional to ensure compliance with the treatment plan. Due to remote locations with access issues, it was necessary to test a new way of delivering medications that would result in adherence.
If this can work in this population, imagine what it can do with seniors who may not remember to take their medications properly?
Healthcare Future is Now
The future is now with regards to technology, connected health and telehealth innovations that can help our senior loved ones live a healthy and safe life independently as they age.
We need to help them adopt these devices and apps that can give them control over their healthy aging and advocate for them with their healthcare team to help them connect using available technology.
Family caregivers need to take the lead in modeling and promoting technology adoption.