Wearable Sensors Could Be The Key To Cost Effective Care For Seniors
Get ready, because baby boomers are going to balloon healthcare costs in the next decade
Advances in medical science allow us to enjoy longer, healthier lives but gains in longevity also present challenges. Nearly 75 million baby boomers are poised to turn 70 years old, and the majority of those seniors will live to the ripe old age of 85. This is a positive development for humanity, but it does pose some potential problems.
Longer lifespans mean increased stress on our country’s infrastructure, particularly when it comes to medical services. While the healthcare debate causes chaos in Congress, insurance companies, the United States government and organizations like the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) are working in partnership to address the unprecedented wave of Americans who will become eligible for Medicare in the next decade.
One of the industries that has the most potential to transform how America cares for its aging citizens is technology, specifically the healthtech sector. Fancy connected devices like Fitbits and Smartwatches are part of a growing trend in fitness for the tech savvy, but the sensors these gadgets employ could also hold the promise of achieving more cost-effective, compassionate care for an aging population.
The Scope of the 2030 Senior Surge
In 2010, 13% of America’s population was over 60, but they made up nearly 34% of all healthcare expenses. While many countries have opted to care for older populations through socialized medicine, the United States has lagged behind in adopting measures that would address the growing cost of prescription drugs and skyrocketing insurance premiums.
And no one bears the brunt of these costs more than the elderly. In a study of the 2030 baby boomer problem, the Health Services Research Journal argued that the United States was not well positioned to handle the shock of a wave of aging baby boomers.
“The real challenges of caring for the elderly in 2030 will involve: (1) making sure society develops payment and insurance systems for long-term care that work better than existing ones, (2) taking advantage of advances in medicine and behavioral health to keep the elderly as healthy and active as possible, (3) changing the way society organizes community services so that care is more accessible, and (4) altering the cultural view of aging to make sure all ages are integrated into the fabric of community life.” Health Services Journal, The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers
Currently, the average couple retiring at age 65 will need $260,000 to cover medical costs during their remaining lifetime. But the scope of the problem doesn’t end with money. Not only do costs for senior care seem daunting, but estimates indicate there will be less assistance and support available from society as a whole as our population ages.
So with more people to care for but fewer caregivers to go around, we’ll have to consider other ways to monitor the well-being of seniors. And that’s where the healthcare industry believes technology could make the difference.
How Wearable Sensors Can Be Part Of The Solution
A growing body of healthcare experts believe digital therapeutics could be the key to keeping older people healthier for longer. Currently, sensors wearing fitness gadgets can get get a read on heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. But these devices also have the potential to measure not only vitals, but administer medication, run advanced diagnostics, provide home assistance, and ensure access to emergency response.
These healthcare wearables and sensors could be a lifesaver not just to seniors, but to a healthcare industry struggling with ballooning costs. An overnight hospital stay currently costs about $2,000, and the average rate for a private room in an elderly care facility total $75,000 per year. Being able to provide care with minimal disruption is not only the best outcome for patients but also incredibly cost-effective in comparison to our current model of healthcare.
Companies like Careband recognize the opportunity technology has to bring more compassionate care to the elderly. Their wearable is specifically designed for seniors with dementia and provides alerts and customized notifications for events like wandering.
The GPS sensor enables caregivers to locate the resident both indoors and outside and provides tracking for movement and behavior. Founder Adam Sobol says wearable tech like CareBand could become a pivotal part of how we care for aging populations.
“For populations such as those with dementia, wearable technology has a real value proposition. Not only is there a dignity and independence component to wearables, but there is true utility; keeping seniors safe while providing peace of mind to caregivers. Beyond this, the opportunity presented behind the data collected is immense. Taking raw data and turning it into actionable insights can help caregivers detect early changes in behavior and keep seniors out of the hospital.
We are entering into a very exciting era whereby the combination of hardware, software, and data enables people to make smarter decisions and live safer, healthier lives.” — Adam Sobol, Founder of CareBand
While some have protested that the elderly and technology are unlikely partners, most wearables and trackers like CareBand are minimally invasive and require little to no expertise. For the most part, these types of sensors are monitored by caregivers and enable more supervision and better quality care both in facilities and at home.
As the debate over how to fund Medicare and Medicaid lives on, so does our aging population. And fortunately, the answer to a healthier, more affordable future lies not only with Congress but also in our ability to utilize technology for innovative solutions to senior care. In the case of wearables for the elderly, we’re fortunate to have a future where we can choose to lower costs without sacrificing on compassion.