Health technology allows millions of people to “age in place”

“Aging in place” refers to people aging in their own homes rather than moving to nursing homes or other types of care facilities. It’s certainly not new, conceptually – for centuries many cultures around the world have celebrated the retirement of the elderly and happily embrace the practice of elder care. What is relatively new, however, is how health technology has enabled a whole new level of empowerment for seniors.

Many companies are leading this effort by spending millions of dollars on new and innovative technologies. For example, Apple has been slowly increasing its offerings aimed at this demographic, including features like fall detection. The company explains that “if you entered your age when setting up your Apple Watch, or in the Health app, and you’re 55 or older, this feature will automatically turn on.” [… if the watch…] detects a sudden drop while you are wearing your watch, it taps your wrist, triggers an alarm and displays an alert. You can choose to contact emergency services or dismiss the alert […] If your watch detects that you have been standing still for about a minute, it will place the call automatically. Such features provide reassurance for safer everyday mobility.

Likewise, the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced many new innovations which, by their nature, respond well to “aging in place”. Take for example home diagnostics, which have become much more advanced due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures during the pandemic. New rapid testing capabilities, biomarker detection methods and rapid diagnostic tools have been rapidly developed, many of which can be performed from the comfort of one’s own home. Take for example Everlywell, which offers many home testing kits; the Company’s products range from sexual health testing, inflammatory markers and fertility indicators to determining thyroid and hormone levels. For millions of older adults who may have mobility issues or are unable to visit a primary care doctor regularly, these tests can be a game-changer. This is in addition to many other companies that have created similar diagnostic tests for flu, Covid and other common illnesses.

Fortunately, the delivery of care itself has become slightly easier, with the widespread deployment of telehealth. With high-speed internet and better connectivity around the world, individuals can now easily connect with doctors and specialists in their homes through various telehealth platforms. I wrote last year about telehealth drones, which take telehealth services one step further: bringing a drone with a telehealth display into a home for a “virtual care visit” so that a person can talk to a doctor live.

Recently, the University of Pittsburgh announced that it would launch its Healthy Home Laboratory project, aimed at “creating technological solutions to support health and independence at home”. As described, “The Pitt Healthy Home Laboratory is a community laboratory that brings the best of science to the home to maximize health and safety. We do this by designing, developing and evaluating new and existing technologies, promoting healthy home services and interventions, and creating comprehensive health and environmental assessments to help people live safely and independently at home. Essentially, researchers and innovators will use the initiative to identify key pain points for older adults and people with mobility challenges, with the goal of addressing these issues with practical solutions to better enable life and aging at residence. This seems like a positive and productive step in creating meaningful innovation.

Indeed, there is still a lot to be done in this area, particularly with regard to patient safety, mobility and the delivery of quality care. However, the initiatives above certainly grant a vision of a promising future.

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