New and Innovative Health Technology for Older Adults

July 23rd, 2019

Perhaps you’re acquainted with Pepper. No, not salt’s best friend.

Pepper (a collective noun for a type of social robot) is being used in two Belgian hospitals as a greeter, programmed to interact with patients in a manner that, according to its designers, is consistent with human psychology.

“This is not a relationship that is trying to compete with the professionals,” Cynthia Breazeal, director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT’s Media Laboratory, said of Pepper and its colleagues at a recent Connected Health Conference. “The robots can augment and extend human care and intervention.”

Social robots are one of the many technological advances now being deployed to enhance the role of professionals in caring for us and our loved ones – and our lives are enriched as a result.

Connected Health: Combatting Loneliness & Improving Knowledge

Loneliness is a healthcare issue for many of us, and technology is stepping in to help fill the void. Take online support groups, for example. These virtual gatherings engender a sense of community, assuring us as patients and family caregivers that we’re not alone in our experiences.

Other online services connect us to useful information about our mental and physical health. Here are two examples:

  1. Live Your Life Well is a program sponsored by Mental Health America that offers encouragement for staying connected and tools for feeling stronger and more hopeful.
  2. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers members and employers a Virtual Well-Being program with access to live weekly webinars covering a wide variety of topics related to exercise and nutrition. Meditation instruction will be available, too, as will financial-management advice.

Intelligent Devices: Keeping Us Safe

Technology can also help us reduce risk and make better decisions. Take, for example, the role innovation is playing in the everyday meds routine.

Medication dispensers alert users when it’s time to take a pill. With some models, an alarm sounds, the user taps a screen, a drawer pops open and the pill is dispensed. Other models also send a vibration to a smartphone or watch, including a second alert that can be sent if the user doesn’t respond to the first one. You can even set up some systems to notify a family member or healthcare provider if the medication is not taken.

Another innovative technology for older adults combines automatic personal emergency response systems (PERS) with predictive analytics to identify risk factors, monitor vital signs and alert patients at home before something happens. A recent study found that hospital admissions could be reduced significantly using such tools.

Digital Health: Monitoring Our Wellbeing

It’s easier now to monitor our own health status, and to help our care team, too. New tools provide an easy, accessible, and secure means of maintaining your medical records. You can scan vital signs and other information into the device with a smartphone camera, then add your own notes. Ask your doctors if they have a system like this.

Even more promising, technology now in the development stage will allow healthcare professionals to capture vital signs and other data remotely via a small wearable device for patients that transmit data to the provider. A device could, for example, assess a patient’s cardiovascular status and provide a warning if an intervention is advised.

Technology for Seniors: Embracing the Future

Technology has much to offer. But it can frequently be baffling, and many of us fear that reliance on devices and digital resources signals a loss of independence. Andrew Duxbury, MD, a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, works with patients to overcome these objections.

One of the key issues he addresses is how using technology can help them stay safe as their risk of falls increases.

“I spend a lot of time with seniors going over the normal changes of aging and how our brains change and that this leads to issues of balance and increased fall risk,” he explains. “We talk about the human experience and how it hasn’t changed for millennia, and that the use of assistance … is not a reflection on them.”

The advanced technology used in some PERS can detect a fall, automatically call for help even if you can’t, and pinpoint your location.

Lifeline’s On the Go, for example, is a mobile medical alert system that accurately detects falls and reduces false alarms. It sends an alert to trained care specialists who can help or dispatch emergency services if you don’t respond within 30 seconds. The system also combines five location technologies, including GPS-A and intelligent location breadcrumbs – data “pings” that track the wearer’s movements throughout the day so responders can trace our steps and find us quickly – to more accurately identify your location.

We’re all increasingly reliant on technology. Instead of being wary, let’s embrace these innovations.

And if you should encounter Pepper, embrace him (or her). It’s reported that the robot can even dance the lambada.

Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be suffering from a healthcare condition.