[Technology helps keep patients and seniors at home and out of facilities](http://www.homecaremag.com/aging-place/september-2015/keeping-seniors-their-homes-technology#sthash.7YQxXypF.dpuf)
by Kimberly O’Loughlin
With longer life spans and aging baby boomers, the growth of today’s senior population is unprecedented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by 2030 older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. This dramatic growth in the country’s senior population, many of whom have complex and chronic conditions, brings challenges for the medical, technological and home health care communities, one of which is keeping seniors in their homes as long as safely feasible.
In a recent survey by Philips and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, 96 percent of senior respondents said it’s important to be as independent as possible as they get older. Fulfilling this need for independence is crucial to helping seniors maintain their overall well-being and health. Keeping seniors in the comfort of their homes and out of assisted living and nursing facilities can also save families and the overall health care system millions of dollars.
Fortunately, innovation is fueling solutions that provide help and support to seniors and their caregivers. These technologies help keep seniors safe and connected, support them and their caregivers across the entire health care continuum, and help seniors remain independent and in their own homes.
Medical Alert Systems
It is estimated that one out of three adults ages 65 and older fall each year, and fall rates increase sharply with advancing age. Medical alert services empower seniors to live independently, knowing they can get help in the event of a fall or other emergency. They also provide peace of mind for caregivers. Through their medical alert device, seniors can connect with trained professionals who can get them the appropriate assistance. Products can come equipped with automatic fall detection technology that sense a fall and activate a call for help when a senior may be unable to do so. The newest generation of medical alert services offer wireless options and location technology, allowing seniors to take their device outside the home with the added confidence that if they encounter an emergency, help will be able to locate them. Once considered cumbersome, today’s medical alert devices can be comfortable and discreet.
If seniors aren’t yet at the point where they’re ready for a wearable medical alert device, there are mobile response apps that can help protect them through smartphones and tablets. By activating the app, seniors can connect to the same 24/7 emergency call centers where trained professionals are waiting to assist them.
Along with connecting seniors to help, medical alert services are part of the exciting trend in wearables. Just as other wearables collect information about fitness, nutrition and sleep patterns, medical alert devices are capturing important data about senior populations and outcomes. As it becomes easier to aggregate and analyze that data, there will be exciting possibilities for improving outcomes, reducing hospital readmissions and increasing senior satisfaction.
Many health care professionals are turning to innovations in telehealth and other emerging models of care across the health continuum that effectively transition patients from hospitals back to their homes. Telehealth technologies, including home monitoring, allow health care professionals to communicate, monitor and care for elderly patients remotely, and they help deliver integrated, high-quality care while seniors recover in the comfort of their homes. Along with monitoring a patient’s condition, the data telehealth solutions generate can help clinicians better predict when a patient may experience a medical event, ideally prompting a proactive intervention or adjustment to the care plan to prevent the need for a readmission.
Medication Management Tools
One in 10 senior hospitalizations are related to medication mismanagement. Many of today’s seniors are taking a number of pills to treat a host of chronic and other medical conditions. Keeping track of all those pills can be a challenge—even one medication mix-up can be dangerous. Medication management services play a crucial role in ensuring seniors are taking the correct medicine at the right time. There are many tools to help, some as simple as plastic pill organizing boxes. More advanced solutions include mobile apps that send a reminder when it’s time for medication, and automatic devices that dispense presorted medications at preprogrammed times.
Email, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and Skype can help seniors stay active, engaged and feel less isolated. These solutions help seniors stay in touch with family and caregivers, particularly those who are distant, and provide easy access to information about health, medical and lifestyle issues. Although some seniors face barriers when it comes to using new technology, including challenges learning how to use new devices, once seniors join the online world, digital technology becomes an integral part of their daily lives. As seniors become increasingly comfortable with Internet-enabled solutions and new waves of Web- and social-savvy baby boomers join the senior population, they will demand solutions that connect them to the people and information that are vital to their lives.
These are just a few examples of how today’s innovative technologies are helping seniors remain independent and safe. Continuing to innovate and offering the most connected and personalized solutions will help seniors, their caregivers and home care professionals better navigate today’s complex health care system while increasing the quality of care seniors receive and lowering costs overall.