Article Archive
July/August 2019

Poised for a Breakthrough: 5 Ways Technology Promises to Transform Health Care for Older Adults
By Mary Gorder
Today’s Geriatric Medicine
Vol. 12 No. 4 P. 26

The population demographics of the United States are rapidly changing. Individuals 65 and older currently make up approximately 15% of the growing population, and it’s expected that this number will rise as the baby boomer generation ages. The census bureau states that by 2030, “all baby boomers will be older than age 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that 1 in every 5 residents will be retirement age.”

The life expectancy of Americans has greatly increased, adding financial strain on both individuals and the national health care system. Failure to implement the right solutions for elder care may result in a serious public health issue that carries long-term consequences.

Advances in technology are poised to transform health care for older adults, with a number of solutions that will improve lives through better care and services. Innovations are being integrated at a rapid pace, and with recent legislative changes, health care institutions are beginning to implement them to help scale their services in emergency departments, hospice care, and rural hospitals.

And while telehealth reimbursement still needs significant improvement, 49 states, including Washington, are now willing to reimburse several forms of virtual health care. A few states continue to question the value of certain telehealth technologies, but with the undeniable benefits and cost savings these types of services can offer, it’s just a matter of time before they are adopted by the entire country.

Technology is widening the door to a better future, and with the following five innovations, the health care system is set to greatly transform the way we care for today’s aging population.

Virtual Assistants
Each passing year brings major advances in robotics. In Japan, these innovations are already being integrated for enhanced elder care, but progress is slower in the United States. The lack of skilled caregivers is prompting innovators to design health care solutions that provide daily assistance and companionship to older adults, allowing them to remain independent for a longer period of time.

While the full integration of telehealth interfaces will take time, existing systems such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Echo are starting the trend. On the horizon are voice recognition platforms that will receive commands, encourage social and physical activity, manage events, and monitor health. Increased success will be highly dependent on the systems’ ability to humanize the process by establishing an emotional connection with patients.

Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote monitoring can offer a variety of advantages, especially for patients who have mobility issues. This type of technology can remotely supervise and diagnose elderly patients’ health from a distance. Remote patient monitoring devices can enhance monitoring capabilities thanks to wearable, wireless sensor and biometric devices that can transmit data directly to physicians and health care institutions. From heart monitoring to medication adherence and diabetes readings, remote patient monitoring devices can offer 24/7 remote monitoring, helping to increase safety and well-being for older adults living at home. And because today’s elders tend to be tech savvy, they possess the skill and motivation needed to integrate these technologies into their daily lives.

Remote medical care via communication devices is an aspect of technology that’s flourishing in modern health care. For elderly patients who live in remote locations or those with transport or mobility constraints, virtual consultations are a viable solution, granting them high-quality care in the comfort of their own homes. Accessing these services through devices such as a tablets or computers allows older patients to receive faster health care, which ultimately improves patient outcomes, reduces hospital admissions, and decreases emergency department visits.

Furthermore, telemedicine allows patients to receive care from specialists who might otherwise be unreachable. Since the elderly are at a higher risk of developing chronic conditions, giving them access to consultations with specialists is absolutely essential. And because virtual care services eliminate the need for travel and shorten consultation times, they can greatly reduce expenses for both patients and health care facilities.

Virtual Reality Systems
Evidence is showing that virtual reality (VR) systems play an important role in improving elder care. VR-enhanced systems simulate virtual worlds, which can offer incredible health benefits, particularly for patients who suffer from dementia. VR technology can stimulate the brain to reactivate neuropathways and limit distractions, thus aiding in the treatment of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

By re-creating connections with visuals, older adults can rekindle forgotten memories, benefit from speech stimulating situations, and receive cognitive therapies in a virtual environment. Additionally, calming imagery can be used to decrease troubling symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, repetitive behaviors, and mood swings. Multiple studies on VR systems treating dementia have reported a remarkable “70% stress reduction in patients,” which can decrease the use of pharmaceutical drugs to control mood swings and other problematic symptoms.

Predictive Analytics
The integration of predictive analytics in data analysis technology can prevent potential health crises in older adults. Artificial intelligence has the capability to access massive amounts of information from data collections such as patient information, evaluations, vital signs, historic records, and demographics, and create algorithms that spot patterns and flag predictive risks. This kind of technology can prevent tragedy and is particularly useful in predicting falls or readmissions post heart failure.

Ending the constant cycle of hospital admissions and readmissions also limits patients’ long-term exposure to germs and illnesses, helping them achieve better health. Predictive analytics can offer further benefits by unobtrusively recording patient data such as daily routines and activities, including bathroom usage, alerting physicians and health care staff of any abnormalities that can threaten a patient’s well-being, consequently enabling them to take a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to health care.

— Mary Gorder is the founder and CEO of Drs. On Calls, a telemedicine platform that develops, markets, and operates house medical calls, virtual telemedicine service, and concierge medical services.