Friday, December 5, 2014

Future of Home Care: Technology for Aging in Place

Normally our organization does not focus on the future. The vast majority of families we help have immediate challenges with, or questions about, the financial side of aging care. They want solutions and answers that are relevant and available right now to address their pressing needs. In this post, we depart a little from a focus on the here and now and peer five years into the future. What will non-medical, home care look like? What elder care services will be available? What aging
The Honda Walking Assist Device
technologies will exist?

What Will Change in Home Elder Care?

One can think of non-medical home care that allows individuals to age-in-place as serving three distinct needs.
  1. Monitoring and Supervision: prevents self-injury, wandering and ensures medication regiments are followed.
  2. Physical Assistance: help with the activities of daily living such as transferring, mobility, eating and personal hygiene.
  3. Companionship: social interactions, conversation and observance of mood.
Technologies will provide change in all three areas but to varying degrees.

The area of monitoring and supervision will be most dramatically affected by new technology. In this area, the need for human assistance in the home will all but be eliminated. Wearable GPS devices will track location and alert responsible parties immediately when required. Web-enabled medication management system will do the same, track consumption and alert individuals when deviation has occurred. A whole new suite of personal data and actions will be monitoring and reported. These will include blood pressure, temperature, weight, movement within the home, falls, bathroom usage and even the opening and closing of cabinets, refrigerators and oven doors. As human based monitoring in the home will decrease, there will be an increased need for remote human monitoring of all the new data that is generated, as well as for immediate, non-emergency, on-call assistance.

The need for physical assistance in the home will also diminish as a result of new technology by not nearly at the pace or magnitude of monitoring. The past ten years have seen a slow but steady increase in equipment and devices that aid elderly individuals in maintaining their independence, think of walk-in tubs, stair-lifts, elevating chairs and toilet seats. The near future will see self-stabilizing utensils that enable persons with tremors to feed themselves. Driverless cars will create affordable out-of-home transportation options. Wearable stride management / walking assist devices will help the elderly with in-home mobility, short distance movements outside and decrease falls.

Paradoxically, as in-home technologies reduce the need for in-home care, they create an increased demand for companion care. Less visits at home from caregivers leads to an increasingly isolated life for the elderly living at home with limited mobility. Enter virtual companionship, this concept will play out several ways. Already we are seeing increased family communication with social media savvy seniors. Coming soon are simplified devices with persistent video channels open to family members. These programs are really just user-friendly, home versions of workplace video-conferencing software. Then there is a category of paid companionship for when family members are not available. Gerijoy, a new startup out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers virtual caregivers and companionship through tablet computers.

What Will Stay the Same?

Technology will delay the need for care. It will help the elderly stay in their homes longer. Still as physical needs become too much, as seniors can no longer help each other, as decreased cognitive ability prevents home life, the need for residential care in the form of assisted living and nursing homes will continue. Economic realities will result in increased usage of adult day care in place of full time home care and we will continue to see a relative decline in nursing home placements in favor of more cost effective assisted living.

Now to bring this article back to our area of expertise, the greatest thing that will not change and the area of aging that is most in need of innovation remains the issue of how to pay for care. Technology will reduce the care hours required, but still one must pay for the technology. Currently, the pace of new aging technology well exceeds the pace of developing innovate ways to pay for it.

Tell us what technology or innovative ways of caring for the elderly are you most excited about.