The perception that older people are technophobes must change.
That was the message from AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins during a keynote address Tuesday morning at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference in Chicago. Jenkins said her organization’s mission is to empower seniors as they age, and believes technology — and telemedicine, in particular — will play a vital role in that process.
“The way people are aging is changing, but many of our attitudes and our beliefs and stereotypes about aging are not,” she said. “We need to challenge those outdated stereotypes and attitudes and spark new solutions so that more people can choose how they want to live as they age.”
Jenkins pointed to three specific areas where telemedicine can have a big impact on that mission: loneliness, caregiving and addressing aging disparities. Loneliness has become the new smoking, shaving eight years off of an individual’s life expectancy, she said, while many caregivers face unprecedented demands, with some spending more time caring for an aging parent than their own children.
“Our research shows that family members do 90 percent of caregiving, and nearly half of them perform tasks that were once limited to only trained nurses,” Jenkins said.
Technology-enabling virtual consultations and monitoring can help to improve outcomes in each of those areas, she said.
Language Around Virtual Care Matters
Jenkins also called for a change to the language used to discuss virtual care. AARP research indicates that people’s attitudes toward telehealth and their willingness to use it is shaped by the verbiage used to talk about it, she said.
One of the biggest fears regarding telehealth for older individuals is that it will be used to replace the way they currently receive care, rather than enhancing their care, Jenkins said.
“The terms we use can help get the point across to them,” she said. “The terms telehealth, telemedicine and digital medicine don’t seem to send the right message to consumers. The most favorable term that emerged from our research: connected care.”
In addition to altering terminology, Jenkins said better connecting older adults needs to be about more than simply treating ailments; it also must focus on well-being and include measures such as social determinants of health to truly shift the paradigm of care.
“We need to focus on preventing disease and improving well-being,” she said. “We need to enable [older adults] to become empowered users of the healthcare system, not dependent patients, and we need to ensure that they have dependable access to healthcare throughout their lives.”
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