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What’s The Promise Of Healthcare Technology For Aging In Place?

Whenever I hear conversations about “aging in place,” my interest is piqued. Like many of us, that’s because I care for an aging parent, and I’m on the lookout for new tools and technology to help. As a card-carrying member of the sandwich generation, I care for both young adults and aging parents. And although there are tools to keep an eye on your teenager, there are few to help with aging parents.

The “Silver Tsunami” Is Cresting

Right now, more than 55 million seniors reside in the U.S. Add to that total the more than 10,000 Baby Boomers who are turning 65 every day. Helping these aging Americans are 53 million unpaid caregivers—usually family members or close friends. These devoted helpers spend an average of 32 hours per week on top of full-time jobs and busy family lives caring for their loved ones.

When we weigh the burden placed on caregivers, it’s important to realize that this is just the beginning. You may have heard the term “silver tsunami” used to describe the dramatically increasing number of seniors in the U.S. This demographic is poised to swell precipitously, with the number of seniors in the U.S. expected to reach 95 million over the next 40 years. As the wave of seniors grows, so does the demand for caregivers and their time.

Truly, the “silver tsunami” is cresting and about to crash down on the shores of the American healthcare marketplace. What’s more, this exploding population is historically underserved, and most seniors have expressed a strong preference to live at home as long as possible.

When I look at this reality, I think to myself: We can do better. The good news is that this glaring need to support both seniors and their caregivers has created an acute market opportunity. Are technology providers ready to deliver the tools necessary to strengthen the care relationships between seniors and caregivers?

Proactive Vs. Reactive Information

When I search for ways to address this challenge, as one of the caregivers described above, I naturally think first of my own situation. My father is a good example of someone who’s open to technology solutions. As he approaches 80, he, thankfully, is healthy and aging well.

When I pitch him a new technology, he’s often skeptical, and his concern doubles if it appears potentially invasive. He justifiably questions the value and the need for new technology, especially because he’s still feeling strong and robust. After all, everyone values their independence and privacy, and few like to contemplate the depredations of age.

Despite his vitality, I appreciate insights into how he’s doing—especially if I can get that without pestering him daily. Although I’ve had some failures recently, I knew I’d found a winner when his feedback was, “The system just melted into the background. I don’t even think about it.” It’s a good fit when he forgets the technology is there.

Recently, I was shocked to learn through some of these insights just how active he is. He was walking—a lot! One day alone, he climbed 17 flights of stairs, and on another, he walked more than 8,000 steps. I was excited and shared these insights; he simply observed that those high-activity days were when he played 18 holes of golf. On mornings following golf, it came as no surprise he slept later and longer.

It’s reassuring to know he’s mobile, but it’s also very helpful when I get information I can use going forward. Indeed, these insights lay the groundwork for future conversations when he might not be as mobile or healthy. If I can say to him, “Look, Dad, you’re not moving or sleeping enough,” we have shared facts on the concern, teeing up the discussion about what he can try. For my father and me, getting insight into his daily activities has made it easier to have lifestyle and wellness conversations now while also setting us up for potentially more difficult future discussions.

Technology For New Insights

One thing that’s different about emerging tools is that they’re more than just reactive. Solutions help manage the frailty of an individual rather than just react to an emergency event. I want to celebrate the vitality of now and help my father embrace the vibrancy of life. That’s a huge difference in engagement, and technology should help us lean into this vibrancy and vitality.

Technology can bring new insights to caregivers and reduce the strain of caregiver relationships. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a huge spike in the number of seniors adopting new technology. Now’s the time to direct more tools into the home—wearables, ambient sensing and conversational artificial intelligence all can play a role in maintaining independence. Products must strike the appropriate balance of insight and privacy while keeping seniors safe.

Healthcare is fundamentally about helping people get and stay healthy. Products can learn what’s “normal” for a household, establishing a baseline of patterns and activity. This is where proactive technology comes into play, working unobtrusively in the background to anticipate and prompt action when deviations occur. Using AI-powered in-home sensors, for example, can help caregivers keep tabs on an aging parent. Instead of repeated calls to ensure that “Dad’s all right today,” well-being insights may lead to earlier intervention. When actual conversations happen, they can be more meaningful and less about monitoring.

Healthcare technology is evolving at a rapid pace—from advanced imaging techniques to genetic testing. These advances promise to transform care. Yet, most care is provided outside the hospital. As our society ages, now’s the time to seize the massive opportunity to leverage advances in wearables, ambient sensing and AI into the home—all with the goal of helping seniors and their loved ones thrive. As my father said, we should all aspire for technology that has “melted into the background,” helping keep us safe, secure and at home on our terms.

Read this article on forbes.com.