The world's population isn't getting any younger — in fact, there are more people over 60 than ever before, and that figure's going nowhere but up. According to the World Health Association, the percentage of the world's elderly population will rise from 12% to 22%, to around 426 million people.
With aging, inevitably, comes an increase in health problems, and the associated toll it can take on both the patient and the healthcare system seeking to support them. Because the average lifespan is also longer than ever, thanks in part to advances in medical technology, there will soon be more and more aging patients needing care, whether it be rehabilitation, treatment of diseases, dealing with disabilities, or palliative care.
One thing making the lives of older patients easier — as well as reducing some of the strain put on the healthcare system — is the slew of advances in medical technology. Not only are these technologies keeping people alive longer and mitigating the need for more healthcare personnel, but they're also helping to make the experience of aging easier and more comfortable.
Here are just a few of the ways healthcare technology is being used to help ease some of the detrimental effects of aging.
Medication apps and pill dispensers
We already have busy, distracting lives, and the forgetfulness that often comes with aging can often make it worse. It's not uncommon for aging folk to forget to take their medication on time, or, even worse, accidentally double up or take the wrong pills. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of health and medication apps that can help make this process easier. There are even automated pill dispensers which can simplify the process even further.
Telemedicine has developed significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has become more widely accepted than ever. Telemedicine is a blanket term for technologies that help patients get health care services over the internet, without the need to travel. This might entail video conferencing, an app or website to give or receive medical information, and so on.
Home monitoring devices for patient vitals.
One particular aspect of telemedicine that's particularly useful to aging patients is home monitoring technology. Using simple devices, often wearables, a patient can automatically send important vital signs to their healthcare provider constantly. This can be useful for patients who have a serious or unpredictable diagnosis, since the monitors can detect changes in things like blood pressure, oxygenation, heart rate, etc. before more serious physical symptoms manifest. This both offers peace of mind and reduces the need for hospital visits.
We've all heard of Fitbits, wearable devices useful for people who want to stay healthy, especially as they age. In fact, one of the first wearable technologies was built for senior citizens: the Lifeline call button, of "I've fallen and I can't get up" fame. But the majority of smartwatches and fitness bands aren't typically used by senior citizens. There are, however, new technologies being developed that will appeal much more to aging users: wearables with apps for detecting falls, calling for help automatically from anywhere, and easier communications, on top of the health monitoring and reminder capabilities already offered by more traditional wearable devices.
Although they're not strictly related, there are other technologies that can nonetheless help aging people stay safe and healthy. Technologies like automated lights, alarms, video doorbells and security cameras can provide some extra protection, especially for older people who are living alone. These can also be a vital part of making a care plan, as relatives who can't be there in person can be assured their parents or grandparents are being looked after as well as possible. This will become increasingly important in the future, as the population ages and more and more individuals are choosing to remain in their homes in their later years, rather than going to an assisted care facility of some kind.
Challenges and Obstacles
While adoption of healthcare technology has taken huge strides in recent years, there are still some challenges to be overcome.
For one, there is a shortage of qualified leaders in the healthcare industry, such as graduates with a degree in adult-gerontology doctorate of nursing practice. Because career nurses work closely with patients, they are in the best position to take leadership and advocacy roles going forward.
There is also a need for accessible and effective education on health care technologies, especially for seniors who might be resistant to adopting new technologies and ideas later in their lives. Keeping patients informed and educated will be vital to further adoption of healthcare technologies.
Technology has long impacted every facet of our lives, and healthcare technology is only going to get more widespread, accessible, and personalized as technology advances. Devices will get more sophisticated while being easier and more intuitive to use, and the adoption of this tech will help make plenty of aging Americans, safer, happier, and healthier.