Titled “Digital health for aging populations”, a study has recently caught our attention for its comprehensive approach and forward-thinking vision. Conducted by Chen et al., it delves into the complex topic of how digital health technologies could assist the elderly. It stands out not just for its thorough exploration of this intricate subject matter, but also for its visionary outlook, providing a clear and understandable projection of what the future might hold.
The study’s vision involves a network of internet-connected sensors on the body and around the home, monitoring the health conditions of older adults. These sensors would collect a wealth of data, which would then be analysed by machine learning algorithms. The goal? To coordinate with remote caregivers and autonomous wearable therapeutic devices to provide optimal healthcare.
This vision is a compelling one, and it aligns with many of the discussions we’ve had on this platform. We’ve previously touched on similar topics, discussing the major barriers that are currently keeping seniors out of the healthcare revolution. In our exploration of this issue, we identified three cornerstones:
- Targeted Technological Innovations: unfortunately, few technological innovations are aimed particularly at seniors. When they are, they often come with prejudices that can limit their effectiveness. This is a significant barrier that needs to be addressed if we are to make meaningful progress in this area.
- Affordability: even when technology is designed with seniors in mind, it’s often not affordable. This creates a significant barrier to access, preventing many seniors from benefiting from these potentially life-changing technologies.
- Support in implementation: even when the technology is designed for seniors and is affordable, they often don’t receive the necessary support to use these technologies effectively. This lack of support can make it difficult for seniors to fully engage with and benefit from these technologies.
Our takeaway from these discussions was clear: there’s a growing market for digital health technologies designed specifically for seniors. As the number of seniors grows and they require more care, the market gap expands. Therefore, providers and developers are also interested in developing digital health technologies specifically designed for them.
However, as our healthcare systems become more advanced, the focus is shifting towards the quality of life. Living beyond 80, 90, or even 100 years is an appealing prospect, but the quality of those years matters just as much as the quantity. With life expectancies reaching well above 80 in many countries, we should concentrate more on preserving physical, cognitive, and social well-being, as well as preventing age-related decline.
We’ve already seen several technological innovations that promise to help achieve these goals. These include various methods aiming to prevent muscular decline, aid our senses, and preserve mental and cognitive health. These technologies offer a glimpse of what the future could hold, and they align with the vision presented in the study by Chen et al.
The study’s main idea is commendable, as it discusses what health parameters can and should be measured in the elderly to prevent or diagnose the diseases that most often affect them. It also analyses existing technologies for these purposes. This comprehensive approach is a significant step forward in our understanding of how technology can be used to improve elderly care.
However, we must be cautious about overloading the homes of the elderly (whether it’s an institution or their own house) with technology. This should never be the goal of healthcare, caregivers, or the elderly themselves. Instead, the focus should be on using technology to enhance care and improve quality of life, not to create additional burdens or complexities.
As always in digital health, these technologies should serve the purpose of helping the patient and their caregiver establish a better relationship. Technology ought to serve as a facilitator of care, never as a barrier. It should be used to improve the quality of life for the elderly, helping them to live their golden years with dignity, independence, and joy.