In March, the White House published a report focused on technology’s growing role in improving the quality of life for aging and disabled populations. It outlines six areas where technology is making a notable impact — daily living, cognitive skills, communication and connectivity, personal mobility, transportation access and healthcare access — impacting both current and future solutions and efforts to raise the bar, especially when it comes to senior care.
The report is notable because it shines a federal spotlight on the rapid rise of the senior population over the next 40 years and what organizations should consider today for updating the strategies that will impact the direction of care moving forward.
Social Connectivity Helps to Combat Loneliness
Communication and connectivity, in particular, continue to be a primary focus of technology use for improved senior care. At the Aging in America Conference I attended in New Orleans, Dona Wishart, executive director for the Otsego County (Mich.) Commission on Aging, shared how use of an online platform dubbed the SuperApp helps to better connect seniors with their communities. The platform provides users — both older adults and caregivers — with a sense of social support.
Meanwhile, at last fall’s LeadingAge conference in Philadelphia, representatives from Well Connected, a community of outreach staff and volunteers for adults over age 60 that is part of Covia — a group of senior communities in California — talked about the importance of tools such as phones and videoconferencing to keeping seniors socially connected and engaged in activities. Such tools, they said, can help to unleash “creative exploration and expression” while improving self-worth.
The White House report notes living independently “requires performance of a range of activities,” adding that “an evolving suite of technologies will be required to maximize independence throughout the continuum of care.” Online platforms and devices are paramount to enhancing such efforts.
Improving Care Access for Seniors Is Critical
Transportation and healthcare access seemingly go hand in hand because as the report points out, physical and cognitive abilities often dictate transportation, which can limit healthcare. The report’s authors note with regard to transportation, current technologies that can help older adults with navigation, particularly in real time, aren’t necessarily designed to meet the needs of older adults.
For instance, on wayfinding and navigation systems, the authors write, “While some of these systems were developed specifically for people with visual disabilities, the technology could be refined to meet the needs of the older adult population — in particular those with cognitive deficits.”
I agree, but also believe improving access to healthcare at home via technology for older adults is just as important. Telehealth, which gets its own section in the report, is one way to achieve that goal.
The authors note telehealth technology can improve transitions between care settings for older adults, as well as encourage self-management — particularly for individuals with chronic conditions. “Telehealth … provides new ways for patients to participate in their own healthcare by helping them record, measure, monitor and manage their conditions, and remotely share information, communicate and collaborate with providers,” the report says.
At the Aging in America Conference, representatives from the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services in New York, as well as Pace University and elsewhere, discussed the Telehealth Intervention Program for Seniors (TIPS), a remote monitoring program that helps older adults leverage telehealth technologies to keep track of and share vital signs and more with clinicians. They shared that the program has helped to reduce hospital admissions, as well as emergency department admissions and under-30-day readmissions.
For its part, the government is already on the right track. On April 5, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized a rule that better enables Medicare Advantage plans to provide seniors with telehealth services starting next year.