Living away from your parents can be hard, harder when they’re aging and you are unable to take care of them. Thanks to the never-ending changes this century has brought to us, getting old is not what it is used to be.
Globally, the number of persons aged 60 or over is projected to double by 2050, from 1 billion in 2015 to 2.1 billion in 2050. By 2100 it is expected to increase to 3.1 billion, nearly 3 times its value in 2017.
Seeing the growth prospects of an aging population worldwide, it is no surprise that the assisted living industry is attracting innovations at a rapid pace, making health monitoring for caregivers a snap.
These innovations are becoming increasingly important as the countries of the world deal with the elderly population explosion in the coming decades. They are likely to face fiscal and political pressures to reform public systems of healthcare monitoring, pensions, and social protections for a growing older population.
As in any market, the increasing number of products are very hard to keep a track of, and in a bid to make the cluttered elderly monitoring market easy to understand, we have come up with a list of interesting solutions that stand out in their categories!
Wireless Home Monitoring
A Gartner research paper says that four years from now, a typical family home might contain up to 500 smart devices. But why are we talking about them here? These technologies have the potential to make life much easier for seniors, especially those with mobility issues.
Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the assisted living technologies domain. In a nutshell, these products use battery-powered wireless sensors (instead of an actual wearable device) to measure environmental parameters like temperature, humidity, and light intensity as well as micro-level incidents which allow inferring of daily activities like moving, sitting, sleeping, usage of electrical appliances, and bathroom trips.
The discrete, wireless sensors are placed around the house to monitor activity. A caregiver can simply log in to the product’s portal (or check texts, email, or mini-apps) to find out what their loved one is up to. Most of these products have a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) that upon detecting significant deviations from the ordinary activity pattern of individuals and/or sudden falls, issues automated alarms that may be forwarded to authorized persons.
TruSense, for instance, uses a network of smart home-connected devices designed to help seniors. It integrates with technologies like the Echo Dot and includes a motion sensor, contact sensor, smart outlet, and hub that all work together to provide real-time data. Echo Dot with Clock is the most popular as it helps make life easier at home. You can set timers, create calendar events and reminders, add items to lists, check the traffic and weather, or play the news.
The Philips Hue smart lighting systems can automatically darken and brighten homes to help seniors fall asleep and wake up gently. Individuals can make further adjustments via a smartphone app.
What are the shortcomings?
- Cannot be used to monitor seniors when they’re out of their homes.
- Worth thinking if sensors can capture every unusual activity or not and what significant deviation actually amounts to
- Can such products monitor more than one person at a time? If you were to take care of both your aged mom and dad, would these sensors monitor the activities of both?
Some notable brands in this space are Lively, Canary Care, TruSense, Alarm.com, GrandCare Systems, Sen.se Mother and Motion Cookies, Samsung’s Smarthings Motion Sensor, and Preventice’s Bodyguardian Heart. They are priced between $150–250 with a monthly subscription fee of $20–30 and are available in select locations in the US and Europe.
Wearable Devices with Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
It’s no news that senior wearables can make life easier for both wearers and caregivers. However, what’s worth noting is that these advanced models of healthcare technology don’t just track steps these days — they can monitor daily activities, send alerts, and even prevent falls. Smart wearable tech comes in varied forms: pendants, watches, and shoe soles.
Contrary to a lot of senior care products on the market, the CarePredict Tempo monitors the wearer rather than the surrounding environment. Worn as a wristband, it monitors motion, sleep, location, personal care, and daily activities. After learning the routine patterns in the senior wearer’s life, Tempo can alert the family whenever there’s a deviation from the regular patterns. It charges without a cord and features a call button that works as a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS).
The new Apple Watch aims to keep elderly family members safe. Called simply “Alert,” the app works as a panic button of sorts, allowing seniors or others who might need assistance a way to contact a caregiver for help with the touch of a button. Think of it as a high-tech version of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” devices from infomercials of the past. Thanks to changes in the operating system that became available with watchOS 2, the app can also pay attention to physiological signals and suggest that seniors might want to request assistance before an issue actually becomes a problem. The app can come particularly in handy for those with medical conditions that limit their motor movement or speech.
GreatCall’s sleek Lively, which doubles as a watch and pendant, is probably the most good-looking senior wearable in the market. A lookalike of the Apple Watch, this device is waterproof and easy to use, and the long-lasting battery allows for up to 6 months of continuous use. This one too has a PERS button that connects the user directly to an agent who can take appropriate action based on the situation — whether that’s contacting an emergency medical team or giving family members a call.
GPS SmartSole, a product sold by GTX Corp based out of California, is a trimmable shoe insole that uses a combination of GPS, cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi technology to capture data, log the location of the wearer, and wirelessly transmit the data to the cloud, where a caregiver can access it via a portal or an app. The associated app also allows for location sharing, letting you keep tabs on your loved ones no matter where they are.
Shortcomings of wearables:
- Highly prone to external damage and theft
- Do not support camera monitoring; need an additional set up for the same
- Requires user to put on the device and keep it on
Other products include GoSafe by Philips Healthcare, MobileHelp, Medical Alert, Connect America, Life Alert, Freeus and Preventice’s Holter, and BodyGuardian Verite are other landmark products in the senior smart wearable space that are worth checking out. Most of them come with a one-time cost of $150–$200 and a monthly subscription of $30–$50.
Medication management systems
When was the last time you forgot to take a dose? While this might seem a not-so-big deal, such mishaps become more serious as one ages. According to a 2014 report in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, medication noncompliance costs the healthcare system between $100 and $300 billion per year.
Reasons for non-compliance are pretty usual -forgetting to restock meds on time or forgetting to take them on time to refusing to comply because of denial about sickness or avoidance of side effects.
Like all these innovations were not enough already, we now have sensor-enabled packaging that can track the number of pills left in a container and send alerts via a smartphone app when it’s time to take more or reorder a prescription!
MedMinder pill dispensers remind the user to take their medications with a series of optional visual and/or auditory alerts. First, the compartment will flash, then the pill dispenser will beep, then the user will receive a phone reminder.
If the user still has not taken their medications, then all caregivers will be notified via phone, email, and/or text message. The same technology can be applied to prevent dehydration: Sensors can track the amount of liquid left in a container and alert a senior when it’s time to take another drink.
Individual pills can also be embedded with ingestible sensors. Once the pill reaches the stomach, it sends a signal to an external device, such as a patch worn on the body, to ensure proper dosage and usage. The patch records data and relays it to the patient and a healthcare professional. Patients also have access to the information through a smartphone app so they can see how they’re doing and work to improve their habits.
Reminder Rosie is another product that uses voice-activated technology for. With Rosie, you can record up to 25 reminders every day and review the day’s reminders with a simple voice command so you stay in control.
Tricella is also doing some great work in the medication tracking space and ships its products to the US, Canada, UK, Italy, Spain, France, Hong Kong, and Japan. CareZone is a free app you set that buzzes the phone when it’s time to take pills. You can share medication and other important information. The coolest feature: Take a photo of a pill bottle, upload it, and it gets transcribed and added to the medication list. While some products in this segment are sold on a monthly subscription basis of $50–60, others come at a one-time cost of approximately $80 dollars.
Senior care with AI: next step in elderly care
The world is in rapid flux. AI technologies occupy not only space and production but also our human interaction. And finally, it starts serving the day-to-day necessities of humanity, and particularly our elderly population.
AI in hospitals can help clinicians identify medical risks; predict when to provide targeted, life-saving interventions; form treatment plans for patients with rare diseases; and deliver precision medicine.
For example, letting seniors know about social activities in their neighborhood may encourage them to go out of the home and interact with others, reducing social isolation. Sharing stories with health-promoting messages can entertain and subliminally provide education about healthier living. AI suggesting healthier food choices and encouraging them to get active can help to build healthier habits. AI can also update seniors about their children from social media websites and keep them more involved with their families.
AI in healthcare in the future could revolve around the union of social robots, chatbots, and voice assistance.
Assistive social robots, a particular type of assistive robotics designed for social interaction with humans could play an important role with respect to the health and psychological well-being of the elderly.
Such robots are developed to function as an interface for the elderly to digital technology and to help increase the quality of life of the elderly by providing companionship respectively. Aibo by Sony, Paro by ISRI and AIST, iCat by Philips, and ‘nursebot’ Pearl by Carnegie Mellon University are already being tested with actual elderly people as the subject.
Chatbots are also getting more popular, but they are relatively new and still under development for the most part. Chatbots deliver information that has been authorized by the healthcare professionals and can book appointments if the issues are serious or relieve their stress by giving specific answers to health-related questions.
A lot of studies have seen that seniors begin to create some form of relationship with AI chatbots. Social robots can also tailor their engagement to begin to nudge self-caring behaviors.
More and more people, who require regular health care, are purchasing voice assistance and recognition devices. The number of voice-enabled technologies is only increasing and more sophisticated patients give preferences to such tools. There is an application on the market, which helps patients to reserve their rides to/from healthcare institutions through different services. Voice search is very beneficial for many older people while searching for medical information.
The power of AI for health appears to lie in a combination of applications and in the future we can see an amalgamation of all these applications into one. Clinical applications will continue to be invested in and will become increasingly powerful at keeping people alive.
Empathy-based AI applications to support the softer side of care could help us to keep people from requiring clinical treatment altogether. The business case for AI in the continuum of care could be very powerful indeed, and the impact on health outcomes could indeed be transformative.
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