Technology: Health Care Solve for Elders?
By Seth Bailey
Adopting elder-friendly technologies may level the health care playing field as shortages loom in the number of professionals equipped to care for older adults.
Older adults often say that technology is the realm of the young. Statistically, it's true that people under the age of 65 use digital devices to a greater extent. However, it's the older generations that stand to benefit most from all technology has to offer.
As America ages, it's estimated that by 2020, nearly 40% of the country's population will be over the age of 50. Although the increasing number of older adults presents many challenges, one of the most intimidating concerns focuses on health care. Studies predict that by 2025, the United States will experience a massive shortage of health care professionals, marked by deficits of about 155,000 physicians and 500,000 nurses. With more elderly patients requiring care and insufficient numbers of health care professionals to provide it, it's imperative that we find new solutions to help older adults remain healthy.
Technology could provide the answer to keeping elderly Americans healthier, at home, and independent as they age. Two areas are already pioneering the way: medication management and telemedicine.
Medication management apps and pill dispensers ensure that older adults follow their medication schedules. These technologies prompt users to take their measured doses at the prescribed times. Many apps send reminders when it's time to refill a prescription along with pharmacy contact information so the user can reorder medication within the app. There are also apps, designed for the family's peace of mind, that track whether a pill bottle has been opened and how many pills have been removed. It's estimated that medication management technology increases adherence by 40%, potentially saving 50,000 lives and $120 billion each year.
Elders' Technology Adoption
Some older adults' hesitation stems from a lack of comfort or confidence in using devices. In fact, according to Pew Research, more than 77% of Americans over the age of 65 say they need help using their computers, smartphones, or tablets. Most of this discomfort arises from fear of doing something wrong, breaking the device, or not understanding use and operation. However, according to one of the surveys at iTOK.net, an extraordinary 95% of older adults would use medical technology if their physicians recommended it, and 91% would use it if it lowered their insurance costs. How can we help those who need medical technology the most incorporate it successfully into their lives?
Educating Older Adults About New Technology
There are ways for older adults to access the education they need. Communities often provide computer classes in senior living centers, community centers, and libraries. For those who want more formal training, most states, colleges, and universities offer free tuition benefits for older adults. There are even national programs such as OATS and OASIS, which focus on computer education for people over the age of 55. However, too many of these programs, especially at the local level, suffer from a lack of funding and volunteers. And attendance depends on a level of mobility that many aging adults may not have.
Creating Elder-Friendly Technology
Supporting Elders With Technology
With our growing elder population living longer than ever, it's critical that we use technology to solve and relieve health care woes. By providing the education and support they deserve, as well as designing devices that prioritize their needs, we can help older adults improve their health and maintain their independence, empowering them to enjoy happier, longer lives.
— Seth Bailey is chief strategy officer of iTOK, a remote technology support company for older adults.