Remote Elder Care: The new paradigm for safety & well-being
The elderly have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Coronavirus-affected patients in their 80s are 10 times more likely to die than those in their 50s.
For most of us, there is a pre-Covid and a post-Covid world.
As the global community learns to manage this virus better and develops new vaccines for the disease, inevitably there will be changes in the way we live. Most changes will probably be marginal, but some will be seismic.
Caring for the elderly has just become much more challenging and daunting since the advent of Covid-19 – for families and healthcare systems.
How do we truly protect older loved ones, not just during this pandemic but even beyond? How do we ensure that they can continue to live independently at home, even when systems we had taken for granted are no longer functioning properly?
Covid-19: Necessitating transformation in Elder Care
The elderly have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Coronavirus-affected patients in their 80s are 10 times more likely to die than those in their 50s. While there are many reasons for such sharp divergence in outcomes, some scientists have described this phenomenon as “the twilight of immunity”. The elderly are just not as good at reacting to new micro-organisms and are therefore, more compromised in their virus-fighting abilities.
So, seniors have been rightly advised to stay in and self-isolate. But now their “everyday normal” has changed enormously. There is no more going out to the local market or talking to the daily house help or visiting close friends in the neighbourhood. Each aspect of an elderly’s life has been affected – emotional, social, and medical. For many senior citizens, this has caused rapid declines in physical and mental health as they grapple with the enormity of change.
Yet, most senior citizens are unable or unwilling to access medical help or psychological care in the usual way – at hospitals or clinics. While there has been some uptake of tele-medicine services, most elderly have not engaged fully with such “complicated” tech platforms. This vicious cycle of fear and apprehension is calamitous for the long-term health and wellbeing of our elderly loved ones.
We need a better way of re-integrating the elderly with their “everyday normal” and reduce stress in an increasingly alien world.
Remote care is one way of reducing the physical exposure we dread for our loved ones, but it still provides the 360-degree overview needed for monitoring elder care.
This is the golden opportunity for age-tech companies – those who work on the crossroad of geriatric care and technological innovations – to bring affordability, operational efficiency, and scale in home-based remote care solutions.
What is Remote Care?
Remote Care helps the elderly live independently at home – often by using technology that is connected to a 24/7 call centre. By remotely monitoring various metrics – a person’s activity level or mental alertness or sleeping patterns – it is possible to build predictive models about the health and well-being of an elderly. This in turn can be used to send alerts, react to an emergency, connect various stakeholders, and improve the overall response speed for better patient outcome.
A wide range of tech-options are now available to cater to specific needs. A plethora of devices - personal alarms, sensors, smoke detectors – can integrate with operating backends and target different needs – monitoring dementia patients, reducing fall-risk or fire hazards and providing post-operative nursing care.
Globally there are broadly two main types of Remote Care models:
1. Systems that are integrated with a 24/7 Emergency backend, operated by professional care providers
2. Smart apps that deliver alerts and updates directly to family members
The challenge in India, is not about the technology per se, but how to integrate that with a well-functioning 24/7 backend that can offer all the services needed by the elderly at home.
Since our social and medical care systems are fragmented, most families will still need a professional operating company to pull together different strands of remote care – doctors on call, ambulances on demand, nurses when needed, help with hospitalisation, or response during a home-emergency.
Dawn of Smart Homes: Remote care is much more than Telemedicine
Today’s increasingly affordable, smart technology platforms allow for many more possibilities than just an occasional tele-consultation by a doctor. Professional care companies offer comprehensive protocol-based services that provide quick responses to a variety of different elderly needs.
· Sensors, stuck to almost anything – doors, bed, chairs, fridges – can provide deep insights about an elderly’s everyday life – movement activity, visitor records and burglary alerts
· GPS devices are useful for tracking dementia patients who are at-risk of “going missing”
· Incontinence sensors monitor whether a person has urinated while sleeping
· Medicine dispensers improve outcomes by reminding the elderly about medication dosages
· Personal alarms, worn as a pendant or watch, can alert helplines in case of crisis or fall
· Epileptic seizure alarms can trigger emergency response as needed
Remote care is a journey that will only mature with time. Many of today’s solutions will be improved with better gadgets and senior-friendly frontends. The tech-platform will be better integrated with providers - hospitals, police, fire services, insurance companies and home care platforms. Tomorrow, remote care will certainly be much more than a doctor on Skype!
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