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The US population is aging. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans aged 65 and older reached 50 million last year. By 2030, this 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 senior adults.
Today, 35% of older people in the US receive some sort of government support, including nursing homes, assisted living, and residential communities. The overwhelming reason for this is that many older adults do not get long-term care from their relatives.
Many of the medical costs associated with senior care are covered by the government. On average, the government spends $26,000 per senior person annually. This is almost three times as much as the country spends on children and the working population.
How could technology help older adults live independently for longer while keeping down government expenditure? IoT solutions look promising here in many ways. First, digital solutions for the healthcare industry could keep older people out of care homes and help them stay active and independent. IoT could also minimize operational costs. Here’s proof.
Recent studies show that at least 42% of US citizens aged 65+ own a smartphone. Being able to use a smartphone went from being a luxury to a necessity when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing older people toadopt 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 respondents said they had used telemedicine solutions since the start of the pandemic, with 30% saying they had 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 older people of today are tech-savvy and use smart solutions. These are the trends rocking healthcare.
Now, let’s consider smart IoT solutions that come in handy for senior care. They typically revolve around health monitoring, safety and home security monitoring, and interaction with the outside world.
At least 80% of older adults have one chronic condition; 68% have two or more. Smart devices can help older people manage these conditions. Caregivers obtain data from various devices connected to the cloud and analyze and assess the everyday life patterns of senior patients. Moreover, technological advancements help 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 aid diabetes management. 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 helping people manage arthritis. Older adults with this condition 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 adults over 65 have at least one fall each year. Fall injuries are among the 20 most expensive medical conditions. Smart devices in 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 cause of injuries that can be fatal, so smart fall prediction systems can save lives and reduce financial burden. 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 older adults interact with healthcare providers, communicate with their loved ones, and perform everyday tasks like grocery shopping. 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 for many older people and the chance to stay in their own homes. 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. Some older adults struggle with confusing and hard-to-decipher apps, devices, and user interfaces as well as complicated, multi-stage installation and operation procedures. The increased prevalence of visual and hearing impairments is a factor. Color vision also diminishes with age, so some older adults may have difficulty distinguishing colors and need a higher contrast between colors.
Some older people come to rely on a select few easily reached features once they figure out how to operate something they find useful. Unless accessing these useful features becomes a regular habit, they may need 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 first carry out thorough UX research and discovery, collect functional requirements, and prepare product concept sketches. The next step is defining the target audience and specific end-user groups. Once the groups have been 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 suitable for older adults and delivers true value.
Some seniors and caregivers are distrustful 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 an individual’s activities, health, and safety, while collecting and transferring this data via the internet for further examination and storing it 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. This prevents caregivers from making well-informed decisions about the well-being of senior adults and their 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. 64% of seniors would appreciate monitoring and safety tech, and 61% 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 aging are no exception.