Aging societies worldwide pose serious challenges to both healthcare delivery and how it is financed. The financial challenges are not only for the healthcare system, but also for families and caregivers who spend a significant amount of time and money caring for elderly. Carers UK, a non-profit organization, has estimated that over 2 million people have given up jobs and over 3 million have cut back hours of work in order to care for sick or disabled elderly relatives. Gallup estimates that lost productivity due to caregiving amounts to over $25 billion annually in the US alone.
These figures do not count the economic impact of chronic diseases and other issues that affect the elderly. Falls alone are estimated to cost nearly $15 billion/year and are a major cause of death due to sequelae (additional complications) after the fall.
While the headlines on wearables tend to focus on athletes and those who are already in good health, the business case for wearables for managing issues that afflict the elderly, coupled with the time and financial constraints on their caregivers, may be even more robust, if the right solutions could be made available.
A brief look at the current market for wearables reveals that solutions for the elderly are beginning to enter the market. Personal emergency response systems (PERS), which can be worn by the elderly in the event of a fall, have been available for many years. These devices allow the user to summon emergency assistance by activating a button on the device that is worn on the wrist or around the neck. The next generation of PERS, such as Artemis or Amulyte, has broader applications for safety while also considering fashion and the use of smartphones.
Even more importantly, we need to harness sensors to predict the onset of conditions that may lead to falls and other health issues before they happen. AgeWell Biometrics is a cloud-based platform that can connect to a broad range of wearable devices and enable healthcare professionals to evaluate stability of an individual and the risk of falls and other neurological issues.
In addition, the market for remote monitoring technologies that utilize sensors to measure cardiac function, track illness symptoms (e.g. Samsung Gear Smartwatches) or track location while safeguarding privacy (CarePredict) looks set to grow. In the next several years we expect to see many of the expensive medical devices found in intensive care units become wearable sensors worn on the wrist or in clothing.
This development will help health systems transition patients out of the hospitals (where they can be at risk of infection) and into the home sooner, hopefully for a speedier recovery. Other applications include focusing on conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and treating hand tremors, or applications for those suffering from Alzheimer’s (Smart Sole).
In order to realize the benefits of wearables for the elderly we will need to improve capturing and sharing this data with the right healthcare provider and/or caregiver, at the right time. However, advances made in recent years are on the right track to deliver solutions which will make a real difference, in terms of both cost and quality of life.
Photo credit: Neill Kumar