Improving elderly care isn’t just about helping older folks now — it’s about looking into the future, at the kind of needs an increasing elderly population will need down the line.
Luckily, medical technology, medical computers, and interconnectivity are experiencing an unprecedented level of growth and development right now.
How can technology improve the lifespans, mobility, and quality of life for people over 65? How can we predict their needs for the next 50 or even 100 years? What changes can we make to ensure that these developments are working and deployed when the time comes?
The Bad News First
Before we can dig into the right solutions, it’s vital we examine the unique problems coming down the pipe for both society and elder care.
According to a study published in Health Affairs, by the year 2030, the elderly population (those defined as 65+) is expected to double in size. The current infrastructure for elder care is hardly ideal, and it definitely isn’t ready for a 100% increase in load.
Secondly, and perhaps most shockingly, younger people today are generally less healthy in certain arenas than previous generations. Disabilities, diabetes, and obesity have all increased dramatically in the youth demographic. This is not only bad news on its own, but it means that the future burden on the elder care system will be proportionately increased.
So it’s not simply a numbers problem, though, yes, there will be more people over 65+ in 2030. It’s also the fact that there’s a good chance those elderly patients will require more aid due to a lifetime of complications from increased risk factors like diabetes and obesity.
The problem becomes two-fold, which is what the solutions must address. These technological solutions for elder care issues must help with understaffing, a larger patient population, insufficient infrastructure, and the complications of life-long health issues.
Remote Doctor Visits and Telehealth Solutions
The elderly are simply not as mobile as other patients. Unfortunately, they also require more medical attention than other patients. It’s in this contradiction that so many medical problems occur.
The elderly are also more likely to fall, and to injure themselves more severely when they do. The CDC estimates that almost 3 million elderly adults are injured in falls, with 27,000 leading to death.
Add in the risk of nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections, and we realize that even going to the hospital for routine work can be a danger for some elderly patients.
Telehealth is already being adopted in many elder care facilities, nursing homes, and rural areas where transportation is even more difficult. A provider with a strong telehealth policy can transform patient care for hundreds of miles. When a doctor can just pick up a medical tabletto perform a video-streamed remote exam on an elderly patient, it saves everyone time and money.
A doctor can combine these video-streamed exams with wearables like smart watches, clothing sensors, and fully-integrated smart homes to get incredibly detailed biometric data on the patient.
What’s a smart home, you ask?
What is a Smart Home, and How Can it Affect Elder Care?
Tied into the idea of telehealth is the idea that the home, be it an independent apartment or an elder care facility, can be seeded with tech that can make the elderly happier, healthier, and less at risk.
The idea of the smart homes, where healthcare is concerned, is the creation of a safe monitoring space for the patient using modern “internet of things” devices. These devices, usually wearables, can help monitor the patient’s blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, location, and a dozen other metrics even from the comfort of their own homes.
This information is then piped to a medical touchscreen computer, where doctors and other clinicians can be alerted to any sudden changes. This means that the elderly can get the same or similar level of monitoring without having to stay in a hospital bed. This not only saves the hospital time and money, but it ensures that an elderly person can convalesce in a comfortable environment that won’t drain their health insurance resources.
Aside from remote health monitoring, a smart home can also be set up to help the elderly on their daily self-care journey. Digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Bixby, or other more medical-focused apps can be used to give loud, vocal reminders to the patient when it’s time to take a pill, change a bandage,
A “smart pillbox” can fill a similar role – it’s an internet connected pillbox that can send a text to a patient’s phone or personal assistant (like an Alexa speaker) to remind the user to take their pill at the correct time. Some even come with bright lights that flash when it’s time to take medication.
These small, useful features can ensure that the elderly spend more time healthy and at home, and less time in the hospital.
Using AI Data to Prevent Falls
We mentioned earlier that the elderly are more prone to falls, and those falls end up being more serious due to a variety of issues.
However, companies like Qventus have begun using artificial intelligence to reduce the chance of falls, both at home and in the hospital. The first trial run of the system, performed in Mountain View, CA, lowered the amount of falls in-hospital by almost 40%. Since their initial trial, similar numbers have popped up whenever the system was implemented.
How it works: their AI program gathers data from the entire country on falls, fall risks, and combines them with machine learning to discover what devices and policies do and don’t work to prevent falls, and how effective they are. This data comes from a variety of sources, including national fall data, patient histories, and hospital EMR. It even cross-references the patient’s medication with all of this information — does a certain medication increase dizziness, or create a sense of vertigo, or weaken muscle control? This data is then factored into the fall equation in the kind of granular way only a machine can pull off.
These AI systems can then send alerts to the nearest medical tablet or cart computer, letting nurses and doctors know, in real time, if a patient is a fall risk. Since the AI is calculating this in real time, 24/7, and is using live data to do so, it can even calculate when a previously non-risk patient might have recently become a risk, due to procedure, medication, or other change.
Then the healthcare facility, working with these insights from Qventus, is able to implement proven strategies that are backed up by flawless data instead of untested institutional knowledge.
Preparing for the Future Today
We’ll all need elder care someday, if we’re lucky. We owe to current and future generations to create a healthcare environment where everyone, no matter their accessibility difficulties, can thrive.
Contact Cybernet today to learn how medical computers can facilitate telehealth services, integrate with smart homes, and in general make healthcare tech advances easier to deploy.