More Americans are showing an overwhelming preference for aging in place and the good news is that the IoT (Internet of Things) and mobile technology is playing a key role. The aging population is shifting the demographic makeup of the U.S. As the youngest baby boomers enter their golden years, we need to consider the future needs of our nation, especially when it comes to healthcare. The real question is how will mobile technology and wearables in healthcare contribute to a citizens’ ability to age in place?
More than ever before, older adults are showing an overwhelming preference for aging in place. Home is where people feel most comfortable, so of course aging adults want to stay at home as long as possible.
For caregivers and family members, however, aging in place can be a scary concept. While we want our elders to be where they want to be, we also want them to be safe. Unfortunately, while home is often the most comfortable place, it’s not always the safest place. This is especially true if a senior is living at home alone. This is where technology can come in, though.
Connected-medical devices can collect data about a person’s health and trigger an alert when there is a concern. IoT-enabled devices and health solutions can monitor a person’s activity and recognize deviations from the established “normal.”
Devices can detect falls—maybe even prevent them, someday—and they can call for help when needed. Internet-connected devices can also connect older adults to other people. Anyone who has an aging relative knows how important social interaction can be for a person’s wellbeing.
Meanwhile, smart-home systems make it easier for adults who are aging in place to control lights, thermostats, televisions, and security systems without exerting as much physical effort.
Connected medical devices are also making remote monitoring and home care much more possible.
There are so many examples, but here’s a good one. A device called Bioflux, from Biotricity, offers mobile cardiac telemetry, which means it provides realtime patient monitoring and transmission of ECG data to the cloud. From there, the data is analyzed and can be used to support diagnoses, care decisions, or prompt emergency response.
These types of home health-monitoring devices and even wearable health monitors are changing the game in healthcare. They’re making it possible for patients of all ages to be at home without completely sacrificing the supervision that comes with being in a clinical setting under the watchful eyes of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers.
Bioflux is one example in the realm of cardiac health. There are also connected blood pressure monitors, glucometers, scales, and so on. For patients with chronic conditions, connected medical devices capable of keeping constant tabs on vitals are downright life changing.
For adults who are aging in place, devices with help buttons can call for help if they sense an event like a fall, or they can just be there in case a person wants to call for help on her own.
All of this sounds great, but we’re still far from the goal when it comes to creating a society that leverages technology to help adults age in place. Progress is being made, though. Adoption of mobile devices is growing, even among retirement-age people.
AARP says more than half of Americans over age 50 currently own a smartphone, while 89% own some type of mobile device, like a tablet, and roughly one in 10 own a wearable device.
However, there are still hurdles in terms of availability, affordability, and ease of use of systems that can help adults live out their years in their own homes.
For this column, I am going to focus on a few hurdles from the perspective of aging adults. In some cases, folks just aren’t interested in learning how to use connected devices that could help them manage their health.
A lack of interest or motivation to use a device affects a person’s willingness to comply with a prescribed device as well as his willingness to seek out new solutions that would make his life easier.
Then, there are folks who might be interested or willing, but who feel confused by the device and are therefore unwilling or unable to use it, unless it is set up and maintained for them. Still others are so concerned about privacy that they aren’t about to agree to be monitored remotely, no matter what the benefit.
And yet, there are predictions like this one from Berg Insight, which says the number of remotely monitored patients is expected to reach more than 50 million by 2021. This is up from about 7 million in 2016.
Clearly, if predictions like these are accurate, there is going to be some serious momentum in the health wearables space in the coming years. It seems the general public’s growing comfort level with technology, paired with continuous innovation in smart healthcare devices and systems will facilitate a wave of adoption in the next decade.
I’m seeing some really interesting and exciting solutions come out for aging adults, and more solutions that are designed to serve the needs of this demographic, the better. For example, a biotech company called Gero and The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology are using physical activity data collected from wearable devices to produce “digital biomarkers” of aging.
Essentially, what these folks are doing is leveraging wearables and AI (artificial intelligence) to monitor health risks in realtime, while providing feedback that could be used by healthcare providers or even other interested parties, like life insurance providers.
In this case, AI is being used to take in the data collected from sensors and identify patterns. It’s a step forward in exploring the potential for AI and wearable devices in assessing health risks based on past data (via electronic medical records) and present data (via wearable sensors).
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