Health technology enables millions to ‘age in place’

“Aging in place” refers to individuals who age in their own homes rather than moving into nursing homes or other types of care facilities. This is certainly not new, conceptually—for centuries, many cultures around the world have celebrated the retirement of the elderly and happily embraced the practice of elder care. What is relatively new, however, is how health technology has enabled a whole new level of empowerment for older adults.

Many companies are leading this effort by spending millions of dollars on new and innovative technologies. For example, Apple has slowly increased its offerings catering to this demographic, including features like Fall Detection. The company explains that “If you entered your age when you set up your Apple Watch or in the Health app, and you’re 55 or older, this feature is automatically turned on [… if the watch…] detects a heavy fall while you’re wearing your watch, it taps your wrist, sounds an alarm, and displays a warning. You can choose to contact emergency services or dismiss the alert […] If your watch detects that you’ve been stationary for a minute or so, it will automatically call you.” Features like these provide confidence for safer everyday mobility.

Similarly, the Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in many new innovations that inherently cater well to ‘aging in place’. Take home diagnostics, for example, which has become significantly more advanced due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures during the pandemic. New rapid testing capabilities, biomarker discovery methods, and rapid diagnostic tools have been rapidly developed, many of which can be performed in the comfort of one’s own home. Take Everlywell, for example, which offers multiple at-home testing kits; The company’s products range from sexual health tests, inflammatory markers and fertility indicators to determining thyroid and hormone levels. For millions of older people who may have mobility issues or are unable to regularly see a primary care physician, these tests could be a game changer. This is in addition to numerous other companies that have created similar diagnostic tests for flu, Covid and other common illnesses.

Fortunately, the delivery of care itself has become a little easier with the widespread adoption of telehealth. Thanks to high-speed internet and better connectivity around the world, people can now easily connect with doctors and specialists in their own homes through various telehealth platforms. Last year, I wrote about telehealth drones taking telehealth services one step further: a drone with a telehealth screen goes into a house for a “virtual care visit” so a person can talk to a live doctor.

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

Indeed, there is still much work to be done in this area, especially in terms of patient safety, mobility and the delivery of quality care. However, the above initiatives certainly give a glimpse of a promising future.

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