Technologies Changing Home Healthcare

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The home health technology market is poised to take off in 2015, as devices support multigenerational goals: to get in shape, preserve fitness, or age at home.

Next year, multiple factors should combine to allow more elders and people with disabilities to live at home if they want. Government agencies, including Medicare and Medicaid, want cost-effective alternatives to assisted living and nursing homes; many families, comfortable with technology, want older relatives to live nearby but desire a balance between caretaking and their personal lives; and the tech to make these things happen is becoming more widely available and affordable.

The costs for nursing home and assisted living care have grown at rates higher than overall inflation, whereas the cost of in-home care increased at 1% or less over the last five years, according to Genworth Financial. In 2013, the median national cost for nursing homes grew to almost $84,000 in 2013 versus about $65,000 in 2012, it said. In addition, almost 90% of seniors want to live at home as they age, AARP found.

Although mobile devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, analytics, and cloud-based services permit almost every age group to use technology for better health, perhaps no generation is poised to benefit more than seniors. That’s good news, considering people aged 65 and older — which account for about 41 million people or 13% of the population today — will represent one-fifth of the country’s population by 2050. By that time, the United States will be home to 19 million people aged 85 or older, according to the 2010 Census. If the nation begins rolling out senior-friendly technologies now, it should be in good shape for the generational shift predicted within the next 35 years.

In 2010, 3.1% of Americans aged 65 or older and 3.2% of those aged 75 to 84 lived in nursing homes, the census found. Almost one-fourth of those 95 and older resided in nursing homes. Today, almost 40% of those 65 or older have at least one disability, the government’s December National Institute on Aging Report found.

Many seniors are concerned about their physical, emotional, and financial safety. When these family members live by themselves, caregiving often falls on nearby relatives, almost half of whom spend more than $5,000 annually to tend to their loved one. About 39% of Americans surveyed were caregivers to an adult, with 70% holding full-time jobs, according to Pew Research’s “Family Caregivers Are Wired For Health” report.

Technology can help relieve some of this burden on family members while keeping elderly people connected to relatives, caregivers, and healthcare providers. Of course, technology is not a panacea. Not all elderly or physically- or mentally-challenged people are candidates for remaining at home. But experts in aging agree more seniors could stay in their residences longer if they installed several of today’s technologies.

Because today’s oldest generations did not grow up with gadgets and might be uncomfortable with the latest tech, devices must be easy to use. Privacy and security must be seamless, and designers have to consider arthritic joints and fading eyesight.

At some point, however, America’s senior population will be composed of people who spent their working and relaxation hours behind keyboards, smartphones, and earbuds. They’ll expect technology to play a similar role in their retirement.

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