According to the data from the most recent United States census, the portion of the American population aged 65 and older will reach 19 percent by the year 2030. That’s a 6 percent increase over 2010. This looming demographic shift is prompting many healthcare professionals to think about how best to care for the growing elderly community. Fortunately, technological innovations in healthcare have the potential to help providers, families, and patients themselves as they transition to needing elder care.
Image via Flickr by Tunstall Telehealthcare
In the past, adult children often felt torn between wanting to honor their aging parents’ wishes to continue living in their own homes, and worrying about their safety. Remote monitoring systems ease that conflict by giving caregivers and concerned loved ones access to information about their elder relatives’ well-being.
By placing smart sensors on items like medication bottles, caregivers can verify that older patients are taking their medication as prescribed. Motion sensors can detect falls or unusual periods of inactivity, and alert a family member and/or emergency services. Devices like a Bluetooth-enabled blood sugar monitor can not only send an alert when levels fluctuate, it can automatically transmit a patient’s medical data, enabling providers to use healthcare informatics to monitor patients remotely.
Many people are familiar with wearable push-button devices that can, for example, alert a caregiver in the event of a fall. But wearable technology can do much more than that. Today, healthcare providers are excited about the potential of wearable devices to monitor vital signs like blood pressure as well as early warning signs of more serious conditions, like heart attacks or infections.
One of the biggest challenges in elder care is providing regular checkups and treatment to patients who live in remote areas. This is not only an issue because of a rise in the elderly population, but also because of a shortage of healthcare providers. Telehealth (or telemedicine) uses existing technologies, like email and video conferencing, to connect providers with older patients who may be far away or have mobility problems. While some conditions require an in-person examination, doctors and nurses can provide many common services remotely, like discussing test results, prescribing treatment, and checking on vital signs via remote devices.
Social Communities for Seniors
Image via Flickr by dno1967b
Internet usage among seniors has been on the rise for some time, and that is expected to continue as Baby Boomers enter their later years. That trend is reflected in the increasing number of social communities geared specifically toward older users. From an AARP online community forum and a social network targeting Boomers to companies that allow families to create their own online social space, social media is helping seniors stay connected to what’s happening in the world around them.
Within a few decades, the American population will be older than ever before. While this demographic shift will certainly pose challenges for the healthcare industry, the concurrent boom in healthcare technology promises to introduce innovative solutions to help manage the increased demand for elder care services. These new technologies have the potential to significantly improve patients’ quality of life in their later years.