Aging-in-place technology benefits seniors, giving them more independence, improved emotional well-being and overall cost savings. It also helps the healthcare system as a whole.
Between 2015 and 2050, according to a recent World Health Organization report, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%.
By the year 2030, one in six people will be aged 60 years or older. This large demographic is aging, and its members overwhelmingly want to do so while remaining in their homes. The growing “age in place” phenomenon means seniors will require additional support from the family, friends, and healthcare professionals who serve as their caregivers.
Welcome to the “Aging in Place/AgeTech” era.
With 9 in 10 seniors reporting a preference to stay in their current homes over the next 10 years, we’re facing a major transition. We must support this shift by deploying “AgeTech” – digital health tools that facilitate aging in place.
The new connected home can identify when a senior is declining and intervene before the condition is urgent, and it provides increased insights after a transition of care to avoid readmissions. What’s more, AgeTech tools, when done right, reduce isolation and loneliness by connecting all people that support the individual.
Aging-in-place technology benefits not only seniors – who gain longer-term independence, improved emotional well-being and overall cost savings – but also the healthcare system as a whole. Happier seniors, supported by their friends and family, are healthier seniors. This results in more efficient healthcare delivery for health systems, and lower risk for health plans.
Traditional and modern care models converge
Healthcare executives should prioritize the convergence of provider-prescribed care and health-at-home. Hospital-at-home initiatives, particularly for seniors, are the next big opportunity for both health systems and health plans.It’s a chance to improve the lives of the patients, while reducing the overall risk and cost of care.
The pandemic did more than just expand the availability of health tools for consumers – it also significantly enhanced digital literacy for people of all ages.
Facetime, Zoom, telehealth, remote monitoring, health and wellness apps, wearables and voice-activated consumer engagement – these are now established technologies that most seniors are familiar with and can comfortably use. Seniors welcome new technologies, especially if they help maintain independence and age in place.
Redefining ‘the home’
Adoption of digital health solutions will continue, with health experts predicting a heavy shift toward digital health tools by 2025. Technology newcomers, especially aging patients, must keep up. By offering solutions on already-familiar platforms – televisions, tablets and smart phones – we can make aging-in-place technology accessible for these populations.
A recent AARP survey found that most seniors want their health care needs managed by a mix of medical staff and healthcare technology. Why are consumers over 50 driving the demand for smart home technology, such as home monitoring, security systems, home assistants, and smart appliances? Meeting seniors and caregivers where they are with digital health tools means leveraging smart home technology. Seniors will adopt digital health tools, but only if they maintain a connection to the doctors and caregivers that make up the human element of their care team.
The blurring of physical and digital worlds muddies definitions of “the home,” which typically involves both the physical and the digital devices and technologies they constantly use. The magic happens when we drive insights and unify both sides.
Balancing support, independence & privacy
Academic research shows that social support networks impact health outcomes for aging seniors. We must engage seniors in their health plan and let them control their health management.
Consumers – including seniors – increasingly want control over their healthcare. If health or lifestyle decisions get made for seniors without their input, it will understandably divide aging parents from younger generations who function as caregivers.
A study from The Gerontologist revealed a fundamental truth: we associate privacy with dignity and self-esteem. When aging-in-place technology undercuts privacy, seniors increasingly resist.
Placing an in-home camera monitor against the wishes of an aging parent, for example, can create stress and a feeling of loss in control for the aging party. Ambient signals that are unobtrusive that let caregivers check on aging patients remotely, without using cameras, give caregivers peace of mind while granting seniors a sense of agency and dignity.
Aging patients need digital tools that enable self-care and collaborative care by involving caregivers and doctors. Digital health solutions that only do one or the other miss the full picture. Aging in place requires support from a caregiving circle and from tools that let seniors independently champion their own health.
Fortunately, when done right, collaborative care encourages the enhanced patient engagement that drives self-care and improved health outcomes for seniors. One research study from Health Affairs found that participation in a patient engagement program increases enrollment by 30 percent when the caregiver’s role was described. Explaining how a caregiver fits into a care plan gives seniors more control of their experience and empowers them to champion their own health. It also lets them advance their own vision of aging in place healthfully and happily.
Healthcare executives can give seniors longer, richer lives by applying the right aging-in-place technologies. This means additional years for seniors to find late-life passions, pursue new ventures, and cherish loved ones. It also provides a major business opportunity for healthcare executives who can leverage the value-based initiatives enabled by sensors and other existing technology.
Society benefits when seniors can safely and healthfully age in place with the freedom and good health to contribute to their communities and families. But getting the technology right is essential.
To succeed, digital health solutions should be accessible and easy to use, promote patient engagement to help seniors champion their own health, and balance privacy to bolster caregiver-care recipient relationships, rather than place them under further strain.
Carina Edwards is CEO of Quil Health, a digital health company providing solutions to enhance the patient experience.