From 3M Health Information Systems
Technology, health care and the senior population
My dad has always had a fascination with gadgets. Over the past 20 years, he has loved getting smart devices and has gone through multiple smartphones, tablets and smartwatches. Of course, this doesn’t mean he’s adept at using the devices; that’s what his kids and grandkids are expected to help with! But, for an almost 85-year-old senior, my dad does well with his smart devices. He knows enough about his smartphone to answer calls and send (sometimes cryptic) text messages. When Apple came out with the Apple Watch, he kept debating getting one until finally my exasperated mom said, “Just go get it!” My mom has since passed away, and my dad is on his third Apple Watch.
So, where am I going with this story? The other night I was reading when a message popped up on my iPhone saying, “Hard Fall SOS.” My dad took a fall in his home, and since I’m one of his emergency contacts, I was sent a message. After an ambulance ride and six hours in the ER, no abnormal, unexpected causes for the fall were found, and we came home. However, the encounter did make me think about technology and our aging population.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in four adults (28 percent) 65 and older experience a fall each year, costing our health care system approximately $50 billion annually. Some of the most common injuries from seniors falling include hip fractures and head injuries. For example, the CDC indicates more than 95 percent of hip fractures are caused by falling, with women falling more often than men. As the adult child of an aging parent now living alone but still wishing to be independent, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make my dad’s life easier, safer and more comfortable, and I believe that technology can help.
Seniors can be frustrated and feel unable to keep up with the advancement of technology, but it’s hard to argue with the benefits:
- Ensuring personal safety
- Improving cognitive and memory skills
- Keeping in touch with friends and family
- Accessing health care at home
- Staying informed about current events
- Increasing patient engagement with physicians
- Encouraging patients to focus on healthy habits
So, how do we use technology to help the senior population without adding stress and confusion? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Things like motion-activated lights and night lights are very beneficial for fall and other accident prevention. Advanced motion sensors can detect falls and call emergency contacts, family or friends. And, of course, as in my dad’s case, a simple smartwatch can alert contacts when there’s a problem. Health trends such as vital signs, atrial fibrillation and left-ventricular dysfunction can be tracked through developed applications and the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
There are a lot of challenges with seniors and technology, and understanding how to use the applications is one of them. But, as I’ve seen with my dad, some simple applications, additional instructions and encouragement can go a long way in teaching our aging population to use technology and gain benefits in return.
Karla VonEschen is a coding analyst at 3M Health Information Systems.