An aging population coupled with ever-increasing healthcare costs are adding intense pressure to an already-stressed healthcare industry. To address the issue, the industry along with patients, their families and even the government have adopted the notion of helping seniors age in place.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”
As it happens, a Trump administration report from March — co-authored by the National Science and Technology Council and the Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults — states that finding solutions that meet healthcare and safety needs for an aging population is a research and development priority.
“The overarching goals of this R&D should be to enhance the functional independence and continued safety, well-being and health of older Americans, while reducing overall economic costs and the stress on the nation’s healthcare infrastructure,” the report notes.
To enhance individual choice, improve quality of life and ultimately cut healthcare costs, the report emphasizes the use of a variety of emerging technologies.
“Living independently requires the ability to perform a range of activities that impact our daily lives,” the report states. “Many of these activities can be assisted through technology, including those that support good nutrition, hygiene and medication management.”
Voice Assistants Aid Aging in Place
Technologies that can help seniors age in place — and keep them safe while doing so —include sensors that predict and prevent falls, medication dispensers, wearables and smartphone apps that issues health and safety reminders related to proper hygiene, nutrition schedules, wound care and more.
In particular, Laurie M. Orlov, founder and principal analyst with Aging in Place Technology Watch, points out in a 2019 market overview report that AI-enabled voice devices offer many benefits to seniors and are beginning to dominate the age-in-place market.
“We are still downloading apps, but that era may end — which will be an enormous improvement for older adults,” writes Orlov the report. “Instead we will be experimenting with personal assistants or AI-enabled voice-first Amazon Alexa technologies, which can act as mini service provider interfaces.”
Amazon’s popular Alexa devices can do more than simply announce the time and weather — they can also contact emergency services in case of a fall or other accident.
And, Innovation Enterprise notes, “by using advanced sensors and connectivity, some of these devices can scan medications and help seniors maintain a consistent medication schedule.”
Amazon’s commitment to improving healthcare doesn’t stop there, though. With their acquisition of PillPack, an online pharmacy that presorts medication in personalized doses, the company demonstrates it is continuing to invest heavily in the industry. According to CNBC, the company even went as far as creating a health and wellness team within its Alexa division to make the assistant more useful in the healthcare field and to clear data privacy regulatory hurdles.
Earlier this year, Amazon announced new HIPAA-compliant features for its digital assistant, helping patients gain easier access to their health information. The company also announced it’s added new Alexa skills, such as the ability to check the status of a home delivery prescription, find and schedule an appointment at a nearby urgent care center, and manage chronic conditions through voice commands and personalized health nudges.