September 1, 2020
The U.S. population is aging. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans aged 65 and older reached 50 million people last year. By 2030, the number could reach 78 million, which would amount to 19% of the country’s population. The Census Bureau predicts that seniors will outnumber children under 14 by 2035.
With the aging population comes extra pressure on the senior care market and healthcare industry to provide an adequate quality of life for the elderly.
Today 35% of US senior citizens receive some sort of government support, including nursing homes, assisted living, and residential communities. The overwhelming reason for this is that many elderly people do not get long-term care from their relatives.
Much of the medical costs associated with senior care are covered by the government. On average, the government spends $26 thousand per elderly person annually. This is almost three times as much as the country spends on children and the working population.
How could technology help seniors live independently longer, while keeping down government expenditure? Bridging this gap with IoT seems to be promising in many ways: it could minimize operational costs for the healthcare industry, keep the elderly out of care homes, and help them stay active and independent. Here’s proof.
Although older people often struggle with mastering new technology, recent studies show that at least 42% of US citizens aged 65+ own a smartphone. Being able to use a smartphone went from a luxury to a necessity when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing seniors to adopt telehealth solutions to mitigate risk.
According to a recent survey conducted by healthinsurance.com, more than 60% of Americans aged 65+ are open to using telehealth. More than 40% of the respondents said they have used telemedicine solutions since the start of the pandemic, with 30% saying they’ve used it once a month. Moreover, 25% of seniors are currently using smartphone health apps, and 28% monitor their health using a wearable. The statistics mentioned above indicate that modern elderly people are tech-savvy enough to learn and use smart solutions.
IoT for senior care applications typically revolve around health monitoring, safety and home security monitoring, and interaction with the outside world.
At least 80% of seniors suffer from one chronic condition; 68% suffer from two or more. Smart devices—i.e., blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, oximeters, and pill dispensers—can help the elderly manage these conditions. Caregivers obtain data from various devices connected to the cloud, analyze and assess everyday life patterns of senior patients, and detect health problems before they escalate. If any deviation is suspected, a healthcare worker will be automatically notified.
An example of IoT for senior citizens includes connected blood sugar monitors, which help the elderly manage diabetes. When a user’s blood sugar is low, an emergency alert is sent to doctors to call for immediate medical aid.
IoT solutions are excellent for managing arthritis as seniors suffering from this disease experience difficulties while moving around their homes. IoT devices like smart lighting systems, door locks, and thermostats can minimize the need to move. Some devices have also been created for therapeutic purposes.
Connected devices help seniors live safer. Over one-third of older adults over 65 experience at least one fall or more each year. Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions. Smart devices from this category measure movement patterns, prevent and detect falls, and track a person’s location. Caregivers can install a motion sensor that sends an alert if no movement has been detected over a long period of time.
Falls are a major reason for injuries, and they are potentially fatal, so smart fall prediction systems can save lives and reduce financial burdens. Creating a fall prediction and prevention system, however, is a challenging task. Existing solutions mainly focus on physiological factors such as gait, age, vision, neurological disorders and cognition. But engineers should address the multifactorial nature of falls including intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors, and perform analysis in real life conditions.
Fall detection systems alert the user and healthcare provider after a fall has occurred, telling them to call for immediate medical aid. They also constantly measure the user’s speed of movement in all directions. Such devices have accelerometers and processors that can tell the difference between regular activity and a sudden fall. Automatic fall detectors are equipped with wearable sensors that can be integrated into belts, watches, and shoes.
IoT devices can also track changes in air quality, temperature, humidity, or carbon monoxide levels, notifying a family member in case of deviations and danger.
Technology advancements are also changing the way the elderly interact with healthcare providers, communicate with their loved ones, and perform everyday tasks like grocery shopping. IoT can also help seniors with everyday tasks. For instance, ordering groceries or pills can be as simple as asking a smart speaker to purchase the necessary items and then waiting for them to arrive.
IoT promises independence and aging in place for many elders, and the benefits of smart solutions are endless. However, there are some legitimate concerns about IoT technologies.
First and most critical is the issue of age and technology. It’s quite common for the elderly to become frustrated by confusing, hard-to-decipher apps, devices, user interfaces, and complicated, multi-stage installation and operation procedures. Folks 65+ also find it difficult to adapt to new technology because of health conditions—many of them have visual and hearing impairments that make reading and audio content perception challenging. Color vision also diminishes with age, so seniors may have difficulties distinguishing colors, and need higher contrast between colors.
Seniors often rely on a select few, easily reached features once they figure out how to operate something they find useful. Unless accessing features becomes a regular habit, the elderly may have to relearn how to do it over and over.
To simplify understanding and deliver a compelling user experience, vendors should ensure their product is easy-to-use and navigate. For this, developers should carry out thorough UX research and discovery first, collect functional requirements, and prepare product concept sketches. The next step is defining the target audience and specific end-user groups. Once the groups are selected, engineers may proceed to the design phase with customers in mind. Finally, conducting a series of tests involving seniors is essential for transforming end-user needs into a seamless user experience. This will help determine if the solution is senior-friendly and delivers true value.
Seniors and caregivers exhibit some distrust of smart aging solutions in terms of security and privacy. Naturally, such products are as vulnerable to hacking as any other IoT device. For instance, a core function of monitoring solutions is to remotely control elders activities, health and safety, collect and transfer these data via the Internet for further examination, and store them in the сloud. The data could be accessed and used by unauthorized third parties, which increases the risks of financial and physical harm. To protect personal and medical data, technology companies should encrypt it, adopt cybersecurity frameworks, implement advanced user authentication and data access control mechanisms, validate and encode all input data, and keep the devices updated using OTA technologies.
To implement IoT solutions for senior care at scale, it is also necessary to integrate the technology systems with EHR software, patient portals, pharmacy software, and appointment scheduling applications. Currently, patient data is stored within siloed medical IT systems. It prevents caregivers from making well-informed decisions about senior citizen's well-being and treatment. Alternatively, IoT devices for vital signs monitoring may collect data in different formats, which also affects medical data interoperability.
A new CTA survey says health and remote care is possibly the most promising segment of the active aging market. Sixty-four percent of seniors would appreciate monitoring and safety tech, and sixty-one percent said they are willing to use technology that makes life easier and postpones nursing care. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare crisis will speed up the adoption of digital technologies, for instance, telehealth solutions. Smart solutions for independent ageing are no exception.