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Senior Healthcare: Bringing It All Back Home
It was once a cultural norm for people to leave home upon retirement. Many would go on to live in sun-drenched senior communities. Others would end up transitioning to a nursing home or other care facility. However, the seniors of today are turning their backs on these old expectations. They would like stay healthy, stay independent, and stay home as they age.
Healthcare providers are happy to adapt to this trend, in an industry that is understaffed and overworked. Many of these systems are shifting to a home-centered nexus of care. In this model, healthcare providers try to help an older adult manage their wellness from the house, not the hospital bed. Both the providers and the seniors needing care have the same goal. They want older adults to have the supports and tech needed to age at home.
Who’s Staying at Home, and Why?
AARP has found that over three-quarters of adults aged 50 and older want to age in place. While some can’t afford to move into an assisted living facility, or can’t wait for a spot to open up, many more simply love their homes and they love their independence.
In the family home, the senior knows where everything is. It’s all set up to their liking. Homes also don’t exist in a vacuum. Seniors often have deep ties to their nearby community. There are friends and family in the area. They volunteer in local businesses and go bird watching in the park. Many have no desire to uproot their lives and rebuild a community from scratch in a new place.
Other older adults are fiercely independent. They want to maintain their old life as long as possible. These older adults know that health is unpredictable. They might end up in a long-term care facility at some point. However, they want to age in place until that happens. This means managing their wellness needs as their physical capabilities change.
What Are The Needs and Challenges?
The people who choose to age in place have many of the same needs of their earlier years. They still have to make meals, vacuum, pay bills, and so on. However, they must also juggle additional, aging-related complications.
Older adults will often be dealing with chronic pain and other health conditions. The National Council on Aging finds that eighty percent of seniors aged 65 and up have at least one chronic condition. Managing these conditions falls on top of all of their other responsibilities. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to stay independent.
Some seniors aren’t able to handle all of these challenges. They may turn to outside support. However, in the coming decades, caregivers may become increasingly harder to find. A 2013 study by the AARP projected that by 2050, there will be only 3 potential caregivers for every senior who needs support. This is a massive decline from the 7 potential caregivers reported in 2013. There’s going to be a serious deficit of care for older adults.
Fortunately, technology is already augmenting caregiver duties and assisting seniors in aging in place. This tech includes:
Health-related apps that provide data on sleep quality or explain physical therapy exercises.
Wearable trackers like the medical alert smartwatch that can tally up daily steps or detect potential falls.
Medical alert systems that ping nurses or caregivers if a health crisis is detected.
Smart home tech like stoves that automatically shut off.
Service-related apps such as food delivery or rideshare apps.
Hearing assistance devices like sophisticated hearing aids that transmit television audio via Bluetooth.
Tech offers a lot of promise for helping seniors manage their daily lives. It also offers challenges for adoption. Can the older adult learn how to operate the device? Is it actually functional in the home? Does insurance cover it? Will their information be safe? A lot of these issues fall on software and device developers. However, healthcare systems are also working on their end of these problems.
How Healthcare Systems Offer Support
For years, healthcare systems have been slowly adding telehealth services. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated this process. Now, healthcare providers are lobbying insurance companies to offer more coverage for this tech.
Greater telehealth coverage has the promise to help many older adults. It also carries major challenges. More patient data is being collected remotely. That means more private information that hackers could access. Healthcare systems are being compelled to continue improving their data security, as the only way they’ll stay ahead of increasingly bold cyber attacks on hospital information.
Home-centered care for seniors must be built around the home environment. Some healthcare systems are offering home readiness evaluations. Is there enough space for the medical monitoring equipment? What about steady internet access that’s fast enough for video calls? For people who are planning a senior-friendly home renovation, these evaluations can tell them what to focus on.
Once the home’s set up with a personalized network of healthcare devices, will the residents be able to use them? Many tech developers offer little support beyond a user manual. Nursing staff often train seniors and caregivers on basic device usage. This may be enough for simple set-ups. However, hospitals may need to offer more in-depth support for people with complex conditions who want to remain in their homes.