Neha Sinha, CEO and co-founder, Epoch Elder Care and dementia specialist demonstrates how digital technologies and new nimble models are being leveraged to provide the older generation with a healthy, dignified and independent life
Elders are an integral part of any society. The global population of elderly over 60 years of age has doubled since 1980, and is now around 100 crores, and it is expected to double again by 2050. As the average age life span of the population rises, it is important to extend the health-span of the elderly (i.e. how much of the lifespan is spent without chronic illness). Seniors have a strong desire to maintain their independence, and to try and stay as active as possible for as long as possible. Globally, governments, large organisations and new startups are all focusing on how to improve the quality of the life of the elderly.
Though one would imagine that technology and elderly don’t go hand in hand, you may be surprised with how critical a role it has begun to play in this era. Digital technologies and new nimble models are being leveraged to provide the older generation with a healthy, dignified and independent life. Senior care products and services are no longer about adopting any technology and trying to fit it for the elders- It is about innovation, understanding the opportunities and meeting the needs of this generation.
Telemedicine is one of the fastest-growing categories in elder care, and it gained quick relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Elders are becoming comfortable sharing issues through a screen and doctors are able to have an in-depth and comprehensive look at the health of the elders through remote monitoring and videoconferencing. For many elderlies who live on their own, an emergency response system becomes an absolute essential. These systems- either a wearable or a home unit allow the elderly to call for help in case of any emergency.
Safety is a key concern that caregivers have, especially with elderly who are prone to falls or injuries. Now, there are hearing aids that contain fall detection as a safety feature. There are also sensors and in home cameras installed for safe monitoring. Today, most of the advanced alert systems monitor the elderly’s activity levels, sleep patterns or changes in behaviour which helps understand if there is a potential high risk and can notify caregivers or healthcare professionals proactively. Application of IoT technology and wearables have huge potential in reducing the strain on healthcare systems and reducing hospitalisations. Wandering is a key issue for persons with dementia. Location tracking devices have been developed that will give a GPS location, and send an alert to the caregiver if the person with dementia has wandered beyond a pre-set range.
One of the key developments in dementia currently is an ambitious project spearheaded by Alzheimer’s Research UK- called Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN). It aims to develop a digital tool for the early detection of diseases that cause dementia. Global experts in data science, digital technology and neurodegeneration are part of this venture. This could transform research efforts, help scientists make faster breakthroughs and enable them to test potential new treatments, as well as preventions.
Robots are increasingly playing a very key role in providing physical assistance, and also being a social partner (who would have thought!) to the elderly. A recent study in 2020 has shown that culturally competent robots can help alleviate the stress of loneliness and robots could support existing care systems. There are ‘carebots’ (especially in Japan due to acute lack of labour) which are designed to be a therapeutic experience for persons with dementia. Some of them are in the form of cuddly robotic animals, such as a seal pup; which mews, wriggles as elders cuddle it, and many elders bond with the robot, as they would with a real animal.
But, at the end of the day, the role of technology and robots in alleviating social isolation would always be limited, and the importance of human intervention for an elder’s quality of life will supersede. Empathy, love and care will always be the winners when it comes to a good prognosis and true happiness! In the meanwhile, we can all revel in the wonders that technology can bring in our lives.