By Wolf Shlagman, founder and CEO, Care Angel
Eldercare is not a particularly sexy branch of the healthcare world, but it’s increasingly becoming more important. The senior population in the U.S. is booming – census data shows that the 65-plus population will exceed 79 million in 2030. And as the senior population continues to grow, the health of seniors continues to decrease as compared to prior generations. All this begs the question: How can we handle caring for seniors in the U.S.?
The traditional answer involves a caretaker of sorts, be it a family member, hired help, or moving seniors into senior living facilities. But a recent PBS special, Caring for Mom and Dad, documented just how difficult it is for caretakers to manage both their own lives and the lives of their aging loved one. Not only is it logistically difficult, but it takes a toll both emotionally and financially. Beyond the cost for caretaking, we’re facing a human capital shortage of monumental proportions. In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than seven potential caregivers for every person in the high risk years of 80-plus. By 2030, the ratio is projected to decline sharply to 4 to 1; by 2050, 3 to 1.
The problem is clear, we need to rethink caretaking for seniors, as the current system won’t work in short order. And the solution – surprisingly, to some – is technology. Many people believe it’s counter-intuitive to ask seniors to adopt new caretaking technologies as they age, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Six in 10 seniors now go online and almost half use broadband. Seniors aren’t afraid to adopt technology, especially if it will allow them to age at home.
The goal of these technological breakthroughs is to aid the burden of the caregiver as well as to allow seniors to live the most fulfilling and independent life possible. To illustrate the need for these technologies, we can look at two major areas of concern for loved ones, monitoring and safety.
Monitoring elderly loved ones is one of the biggest responsibilities for caretakers, especially with younger seniors that might not need full-time care. For families that live far away, there’s clearly a barrier. But even for families that live nearby, constantly keeping an eye on loved ones takes a toll. Luckily, solutions are being developed that allow for remote monitoring that is unobtrusive to the senior and convenient for their family members.
A perfect example here is a “connected” pillbox. Pillboxes could come with sensors that can tell whether or not the pills for that day have been taken. Instead of having to call family and ask if they took their pills every day, the sensor can alert you when a dosage has been missed.
Safety is the second concern for most taking care of senior loved ones. The first priority is to help seniors avoid any incidents, like falls. After that, the second concern is minimizing the impact of an incident to keep the senior as healthy as possible. Gone are the days of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Current technology is now focused on preventative care and a more meaningful response to incidents.
As we’ve seen, we’re facing an imminent problem when it comes to eldercare; we can’t continue with business as usual. Luckily, we’re afforded the opportunity to use emerging technology to revolutionize caretaking and prioritize eldercare within healthcare.