What Improved Digital Health Technologies Could Mean for the Senior Population
The senior population has grown dramatically over the years, which isn’t very surprising considering that this age category includes children from the baby boomer period. The youngest of the baby boomers are now well into their 50s, which has had huge implications for the economy and how it will adapt. It has been predicted that by 2030, more than 20% of the American population will be made up of baby boomers aged 65 and up.
As a result of these population shifts, countries like the United States and Canada are gearing up for the changes. This means investing more in retirement homes, and accessibility and home safety aids to ensure we’re ready to ease this large part of the population into their retirement phase comfortably.
As they age, baby boomers will also begin to face illnesses and ailments that will need more attention; the need for medical aid, nurses, assisted living, and other workers will surely grow as a result of the demand. Another factor which will have a large effect on the transition is digital health technology.
Digital health covers a large scope of topics, but it is essentially the merging of digital and genomic technology with healthcare. The goal is to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery, and to discover ways to provide more unique, personalized medicines. Improved digital health technologies could mean a much more seamless transition for seniors into their golden years.
The following are some of the implications of this improved sector, and how it will affect the aging population in years to come.
Easier At-Home Care
For many seniors, the idea of going to numerous appointments can be tiresome and tedious. For those who have trouble getting around, the idea is even more cumbersome. With at-home care, also known as home health monitoring (HHM), patients are able to communicate with their doctors without having to travel anywhere.
Home health monitoring has been popularized by companies like Telus, which adopted the idea of remote patient monitoring technology. Patients who use the system have chronic diseases or conditions, but they are able to keep track of factors such as their daily steps and blood pressure to keep their doctors informed about their daily status. By having the ability to track their patients’ basic functions, doctors can recognize if something is wrong and make adjustments.
For seniors, this kind of technology offers a more accessible way of monitoring their illnesses. Home monitoring is done on a tablet or personal computer, and the interface has a simple design to make it easy to manage. Healthcare providers use the daily information to create customized care plans, based on the patient’s conditions.
Patients are referred to the program through their healthcare professional, and a clinical care team takes over for anywhere from 3-6 months until the chronic illness can be controlled by the patient. This kind of digital health technology means less unnecessary hospitalizations, improved patient satisfaction, and increased healthcare productivity.
More Accessible Information
Seniors may have all of their important information stored safely at home, but it’s not ideal to be traveling with that information on trips. When it comes to traveling, seniors who have a safe and accessible place for their health records and personal information can be the difference between getting the help they need and losing valuable time.
Personal health records (PHRs) offer an online solution to the problem of seniors’ paper records. Here, they can upload photos of their records, and input valuable information such as emergency contacts, allergies, diseases, and birth date. This information can be accessed easily online, so seniors can find the information no matter where they are.
This kind of digital health technology means patients can be treated faster and more efficiently, based on their accessible online records; it also means seniors can easily share their previous health issues with new physicians.
Electronic Medical Records
Electronic medical records (EMRs) have become an important technology not only for seniors, but patients of all ages. The accessibility of these records allows doctors to access their patients’ previous health problems, and to update their information in-time. Doctors are able to use this new technology over their tablets, computers, and laptops, making it easy for them to make these changes whether they’re in the office or away.
Updates to this program include MedDialog, which allows physicians to pass information safely between themselves and other physicians. This aspect also makes it easier for patients, especially seniors, to have up-to-date information available during their visits – an even more important feature if patients aren’t utilizing the PHR application.
Ability to Stay Home
As the baby boomers age, the growing fear of home removal often occurs. Seniors who struggle or who are unable to take care of themselves are sometimes forced to move out of their lifelong homes to places where they are much less comfortable. Unfortunately, this can have an effect on their overall health, since their homes often make them feel safer, more in control, and more familiar with the surroundings.
For their families, this is one of the best reasons to care for aging parents in-home, as well as the fact that it can promote recovery and encourage their independence. However, not all at-home care is covered, and it can become quite expensive to manage these kinds of payments over time. Many families struggle with the decision to remove their aging family members from their homes, but improved digital health technology may help to improve the safety and management of seniors’ illnesses from the place where they are most comfortable. Home aids for seniors are also available, which can help improve their quality of life and their ability to move around their home more freely.
This also means that patients who live in remote locations or long distances from the required specialists can also become manageable. With the ability for doctors to manage and pass along health records to other physicians, patients are able to stay where they live without relocating or making constant trips to see their specialists.
Doctors who are close by can access their up-to-date information, and provide them with the medicine, directions, and updates that their specialists have ordered.
Maintaining a level of fitness is key to everyone’s health, and seniors should be partaking in daily activity to maintain their health. Seniors who put an importance on fitness can quickly improve their quality of life, improve certain health conditions, lower their risk for certain ailments, and improve their balance.
For some seniors, having a trainer or gym membership can help them to build their strength and improve their overall health. However, not all seniors are comfortable with this kind of approach, and require an option more attuned to their level of comfort.
Improved digital health technologies may be a solution for many people in the senior population because of the wide range of personal tools available. This includes smart fitness trackers that are worn on the wrist and inform the wearer of their daily actions.
Individuals can set personal goals for themselves, whether they’re completing them at home or at the gym, including taking a certain number of steps per day and reaching a specific heart rate. The ability to modify this tool to individual preferences makes adopting a healthier lifestyle more attractive for everyone.
Wireless Health Monitoring
Simpler health monitoring solutions make it easier for everyone to gather information in split seconds. For seniors, this means easy-to-use technology that can inform them of vital signs including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and other functions as soon as they want to know.
With wireless technology options, smart apps are also available, which can read a patient’s daily measurements and store them for later. Patients can take this information to their physicians and provide their previous readings without having to worry about tracking or remembering everything themselves.
Faster Response Times
With the growing rate of seniors, many hospitals have experienced an increase in overnight patients, as well as a lack of workers to sufficiently tend to them. Fortunately, digital health technology improvements have been helpful in assisting these workers, by means of wireless readings and real-time updates. This means that physicians and nurses can easily access vital information about each patient, including their temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
As a result of improved technology, nurses can tend to the patients who need help the most, and create a more streamlined system for providing assistance. Instead of going room to room to check on patients, up-to-the-minute updates make it simple to recognize which patients need assistance and in which order they need to be tended to.
Digital technology is also key for shift changes in hospitals, when nurses step in for others or take over for day/night shifts. Digital technology can provide healthcare providers with all of the information they need to know about each patient, including everything from their last temperature read to ailments they experienced years ago. As a result, patients can get the attention they need, without the struggle of informing each new healthcare provider who sees them.
Seniors and Technology
Even with all of the benefits of our technological advances in the healthcare industry, it’s been predicted that the group with the most to gain from them may not even use them. Many of those seniors who truly believe that advanced technology could help them, still do not plan to apply it to their everyday lives.
Not surprisingly, many individuals in their elder years did not grow up with the complex capabilities of technology. Some may find it overwhelming, and prefer to use more archaic, but simpler, methods to communicate, research, and live.
If we want seniors to be able to take advantage of the technology at their fingertips, it’s important that they’re encouraged to try out and practice with the programs available. That means offering free training programs for seniors to utilize, to become more comfortable with their new tools. It’s also important that the instruments being offered are designed with seniors in mind, who are often the trickiest and hardest customer to please. By covering all of their needs and most important requirements, it’s likely that the technology will then easily cater to the rest of the population.
The most important thing that digital health technology needs in order to persuade more seniors to use them is individualized features. That means catering to the unique needs of each patient, whether they’re blind, forgetful, immobilized, etc. Interfaces need to be simple and easy-to-use, while the companies themselves needs to be trustworthy and accessible if we have any hope of increasing the number of seniors using these tools.
The senior population may be getting bigger, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to struggle to assist them and their new needs. As the elderly number grows, so too does digital health technology; however, it is critical that these tools are made accessible and senior-focused.
Regardless of how easy and discreet new technology is, many seniors are unlikely to see a benefit to wearing fitness bracelets or blood sugar trackers. While there are constant improvements to these technologies, the constant struggle that remains is simply encouraging the senior population to give them a chance.
Fortunately, for seniors who do give these tools a chance, it could mean a much more manageable lifestyle that keeps them at home longer. With the ability to communicate with physicians and specialists from their current locations, as well as the ability to provide up-to-date information at the push of a button, our elderly populations have a much greater chance of getting the help they need, as soon as they need it.
These updates may also mean fewer individuals going into retirement homes, based on their likelihood of being better equipped with the trackers and communication tools they need. This means a longer time spent at home, an easier time managing their ailments, and an overall improved quality of life.
- Becky McDowell