Let’s imagine a day in the life of a future senior. What do you see? If you picture a man in a wheelchair with a plaid blanket over his legs grumpily professing that things were much better in his day, well, then you may want to think again. Chances are a large portion of future seniors will lead active, independent, engaged and highly digital lives. Let’s cast stereotypes aside and recognize that today’s aging population is vastly different from that of 50 years ago. For one, life expectancy is increasing, and while the elderly are often living with multiple health conditions, they have a different set of expectations and mind-set of their “golden years” that go beyond plaid blankets and shaking their fists at “kids today.” It will be much more about retaining their identity, dignity and choice. This is where the way we deliver healthcare has an important part to play.
For many seniors, the stereotypical slippers of the past are being swapped out for running shoes. For others, the choice of where to age – at home, with their children or at an assisted living facility – depends as much on how much independence and choice they can retain as it does on whether they can receive the healthcare that they need in that setting.
As the Leading Age Annual Meeting EXPO demonstrated, the needs of future seniors have changed. The EXPO traded the proverbial beige cardigan and slippers for Annie Leibovitz as a keynote speaker and a Gin Blossoms concert. Yep, times they are a-changin’. Expectations of how we care for the aging community are changing alongside this shift. As the EXPO highlighted, to improve confidence in our health systems, greater interaction, collaboration and transparency are essential. It’s encouraging to see healthcare providers start to recognize this evolution. But to meet the needs of tomorrow’s older generation, healthcare providers need to be more creative and agile in delivering healthcare, engaging senior patient populations, and meeting their care needs in a way that aligns with how they wish to live and age. This means getting ready to rewrite the rules on caring for the aging.
Tech savvy is the new norm for seniors
Here’s another myth we need to bust. Dubbed the “Silent Generation,” those aged 73-93 have a hard time shaking off a reputation for being “less able” when it comes to technology. However, research reveals that a quarter of people 75+ are using tablets and four in 10 are on social media. This research turns any preconceptions about the opportunity to digitally engage seniors on their head and shows that there is appetite among them to stay connected.
Health wearables and smartwatches today go beyond the simplicity of recording steps to assisting patients by monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes, helping the elderly stay safe or empowering them with greater independence via remote monitoring platforms. I’m proud to say that Philips has accepted the challenge of re-writing the rules for how to care for our senior population. Philips Lifeline offers tools that allow the older generation to live more safely and independently, without feeling overwhelmed through providing safety reassurance, 24-hour 365-day support, and personalized care plans. It’s the kind of tool that fits into a comprehensive populationhealth strategy for a healthcare system. Blue Willow Systems, a recent Philips acquisition, complements the at-home monitoring technologies with solutions for senior living facilities.
Tools such as these help parents and grandparents to be more independent and in control of their health and safety – at home, in a senior living facility and on the go – it also helps their caregivers, doctors and families feel reassured. Healthcare providers can and should be harnessing seniors’ growing digital appetite to empower them to self-monitor their health and self-communicate concerns with professionals -not only to encourage independence, but to monitor acute health issues, intervene when needed and help reduce healthcare resourcing pressures.
The squeezed middle generation
Today, adult children are facing the sobering reality that they might have to care for their aging parents and very possibly, their grandparents, at the same time. This can be both emotionally and financially stressful. For some, remote monitoring offers an alternative solution to what may emotionally feel like “dumping your parents into a care factory.” Whether in a senior living facility or at home, the right technology can provide that needed peace of mind and relieve some of the stress and guilt of not being there. It doesn’t stop there. Technology can give caregivers a chance to intervene before a health concern escalates. It can also collect data to predict falls or other incidents.
Let’s face it, dementia can be a scary prospect and add additional stress for sufferers and caregivers alike. Location and wander management can help keep them safe and provide caregivers with the reassurance in knowing where a loved one is. This is equally beneficial for at-home seniors as senior living facilities where staff can create personalized wander boundaries for their residents.
For some, remote monitoring offers an alternative solution to what may emotionally feel like “dumping your parents into a care factory.” Whether in a senior living facility or at home, the right technology can provide that needed peace of mind and relieve some of the stress and guilt of not being there.
Technology as a gateway from dependence to independence
In Toronto, Canada, a novel example of how technology is both supporting seniors and helping a country manage their aging population involves a robot called “Casper” who supports stroke survivors by helping them to do everything - from making a tuna sandwich to communicating with loved ones. With nearly 90% of seniors wanting to stay at home as they age, technologies like this act as the gatekeeper between dependence and independence.
When speaking with a team member at Philips about what she values about her job, she told me it was the chance to be part of an extended network of virtual care. She said: “They may live alone but they have a whole team of people working for them. It’s inspiring to see how many active, interesting and engaged seniors we have. I spoke to someone who was mixing up a marinade for a pork loin she was going to cook the next day. She sounded energetic and happy. She was 88! She said that she tapped the button by accident, perhaps because of her ‘girlish enthusiasm’ in vigorously scrubbing the pan.”
It’s stories like this that really bring to light the importance of enabling our aging parents and grandparents to stay at home and how technology can provide the means to do this.
Keeping patients out of acute care
As well as elderly patients, healthcare providers also stand to benefit from patients being able to stay at home. Not only does it mean they can better allocate resources, but it means they can use the patient data collected to create personalized care plans that put the patient first. Aggregating and analyzing patient data on a much larger scale – and using technology such as telehealth to be able to host “virtual consultations” with seniors – means that practitioners can identify red flags that contributes to keeping elderly patients out of emergency rooms.
Gripping healthcare by the horns
If we are to take strain off healthcare organizations and empower the elderly with their dignity and independence for longer, we need to embrace technologies that link patients and practitioners together. After all, most care takes place out of the hospital. Using connected technologies will not only give our increasingly aging population more options about where they age and on what terms, it will also allow them to make these choices without having to compromise on the quality or ability to access their healthcare. This approach to providing healthcare goes beyond the individual, spanning further into the larger aging population, making the aging process as dignified and liberating as possible for as many individuals as possible. That is an important part of a comprehensive population health approach. So, let’s toss those plaid blankets, slippers and beige cardigans out the window and go digital. It promises to be liberating.
Derek Ross leads Philips Population Health Management. He has experience from global leadership positions and has led the integration of several acquisitions. Derek’s strong healthcare background combined with his robust finance and M&A experience set him apart as a leader.