By 2050, the 65+ population is expected to grow to 83+ million (double what it was in 2012)1. We all know and don’t enjoy thinking about it, but most of our parents are either in this category or soon to be. There are a variety of ailments that come with age such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer. One particular phenomenon that the digital transformation age can uniquely help with is falls among the elderly population.
The likelihood of falling proportionally increases with age and is the cause of 87% of all fractures among this population2. After following, the time spent immobile causes muscle breakdown, dehydration, pressure sores, and hypothermia among other complications. Furthermore, receiving help after a fall dramatically improve the likelihood of survival for the individual2.
Remote Monitoring – wearable
While completely preventing falls among the elderly may be impossible, we can still develop solutions to ensure that those who do receive necessary care in a timely fashion. Many companies have taken note and the industry for remote monitoring tools for the elderly is expected to grow at a 14% CAGR and reach $1 billion in 20203. This is driven by the push among providers to improve the quality of patient care away from the expensive walls of a hospital and improve the quality of life for patients.
One of the most common solutions we see are the neck pendants that are advertised on late-night infomercials. One of these products, Lifecall FallAlert, constantly monitors an individual’s motion and movement to distinguish between normal movement and a fall. When detected the unit will call an emergency Response Center to establish a line of communication4. There is no shortage of wearable devices for the elderly population. Wearables have extended to all sorts of attire including belts, insoles for shoes, and bracelets5.
While wearable detection devices may functionally work, there are still flaws from the perspective of human behavior and adherence. The technology only works if individuals use it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I would enjoy wearing a neck pendant everywhere I went. Why should we expect any different from the elderly population? Fitbit, as trendy as they may look, have experience strong sales but 1/3 of users abandon use after 6 months6. According to a study by PWC in 2014, only 13% of individuals are interested in buying a human tracking device7.
Remote Monitoring – IoT
Emerald, a start-up out of MIT, is developing a solution that detects fall wirelessly without the use of a wearable device. The start-up has developed a router that sends and detects radio signals8. Changes in the radio signals as it interacts with the human body within a living quarter can detect falls without the need for an obtrusive piece of apparel. In addition to detecting falls, the device can help monitor breathing patterns and heart rates of the patient. I can imagine that improved hardware will lead to richer data to continuously improve the insights we garner as we track the physiological patterns of patients.
Surely the technology will continue to evolve and perhaps it could evolve our definition of what digital health means. As trendy (or not) Google Glass may have been, perhaps we don’t always need to wear our digital devices.
While there is no perfect substitute for being physically there for our aging populations, digital transformation can help us feel more connected and protective as we pursue aspirations that may take us geographically further. The Internet of Things (IoT) can be used for more than just controlling the lights, music, and appliances in our homes. I believe that there is significant potential for monitoring the health of patients without inhibiting quality of life.
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