Helping Unsung Heroes Care for America’s Senior Population

By on March 1, 2017
Helping Unsung Heroes Care for America’s Senior Population

By Kimberly O’Loughlin, SVP and General Manager, Philips Home Monitoring —

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers celebrate their 65th birthday each day.[1] As a result, senior citizens are expected to constitute nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, up from 12 percent today.[2] Additionally, another increasing macroeconomic trend is life expectancy – we are living longer, well past retirement age. These trends give rise to the number of seniors living with chronic conditions and to rising healthcare costs. Americans in this age group, as well as their caregivers will need more attention than ever before as they strive to live well and independently at home. To support them, it is critical to provide caregivers with resources, services and solutions that enable them to best care for their loved ones.

The State of Caregiving

The role of caregivers is often understated in society. However, the reality is that caregiver responsibilities are often overwhelming and time-consuming, especially when considered on top of the priorities and pressures of people’s daily lives. Today, there are 43 million informal caregivers across the country who spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for a loved one.[3] This type of support includes transportation, care coordination, managing medications and more. Informal caregivers are sometimes even forced to miss work and neglect other aspects of their lives, including their own health, to take care of their loved ones.

Finances are also a major contributor to these pressures. In addition to covering one’s own expenses, caregivers spend on average $5,000 per year in out-of-pocket expenses for their loved ones.[4] These costs range from paying for groceries to paying for an emergency hospital visit. When you consider that 37 percent of caregivers need to reduce their work hours or quit their jobs due their caregiving duties,[5] coming up with the necessary money proves to be a true strain. We need to shine a light on the difficult jobs caregivers have and help make their lives easier while also helping seniors age safely and well.

Leveraging Technology to Help Provide Care

To help caregivers, we first need to address the top issues confronting their loved ones:

  • High Fall Risk – As we age, the risk of falling increases. In fact, one in four people age 65 and older will fall each year and that rate increases for those who have chronic conditions.[6] Since falls are a leading cause of injuries for older Americans, the risk of a loved one falling is a top concern for caregivers.
  • Medication Mismanagement – Another barrier to seniors living well is if medications are not taken as prescribed. Forty-two percent of older Americans are prescribed five or more medications,[7] which can be overwhelming and confusing, and can potentially lead to adherence mistakes. This can lead to serious health outcomes and emergency transports to the hospital.
  • Dynamic Health – As care shifts out of the hospital and doctor’s office and into the home, caregivers and clinicians lose visibility into how the senior is doing. This is a key issue because health is dynamic and 25 percent of older adults move from moderate to high acuity care annually, requiring more help and support. The trick is to have real time understanding of how your loved one is doing.

Putting aside all of the pressures, a caregiver’s main priority is making sure their loved ones are safe. Technology solutions are a largely untapped resource that allows caregivers to address the barriers affecting seniors’ ability to age well. These solutions can provide caregivers with the reassurance that their loved ones are safe, even when they are not with them. By leveraging the right technologies, such as connected wearables, emergency response services, and connected medication dispensers, seniors can feel empowered to maintain their independence and quality of life, and caregivers may experience lower healthcare-related costs and save time.

Personal emergency response wearables that have fall detection capability are one type of technology that addresses senior safety and fall risk. When a senior falls, the amount of time to receiving care matters and fall detection capability can provide quick access to help, even if the senior cannot push their button. In addition to looking for fall detection capability, it is important for caregivers to do their research and check for quality and compliance with FDA regulations. This type of technology also provides 24×7 service for the senior and can help with a variety of needs and issues that can arise. If there is an emergency, these services are helpful to keep caregivers informed.

Another helpful technology for caregivers and seniors is connected medication dispensers. With many older Americans not taking their medications as prescribed, it’s vital to leverage technology that will help them take their pills properly. Research shows that about 96 percent of chronic disease patients stay on track with daily medication when using connected dispensing technology, resulting in less pain and 53 percent fewer ER visits.[8] It’s not enough to depend on a caregiver to set up seniors’ medication each day. This type of technology can save caregivers time and help their loved ones adhere to their medications.

Education Leads to Adoption

Seventy-one percent of caregivers want to use technologies like these to care for loved ones – the problem is that only seven percent are currently doing so.[9] The first step in increasing adoption is educating Americans about the statistics and consequences that seniors face and explaining the importance of regular medication intake and use of medical alert devices to help provide safety in the home. From there, we need to start conversations about how these technologies can assist caregivers in their role and allow seniors to live safely and independently, letting them move from transactional interactions to more enjoyable time spent together. Technology has the power and potential to improve the lives of both caregivers and seniors, especially at a time when the need for senior care is rising steeply.

 

[1] Pew Research Center. (2010). Baby Boomers Approach 65 – Glumly.
[2] AARP and National Alliance on Caregiving.
[3] National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.
[4] Caring.com. (2016). 2016 Caregiving Journey Survey.
[5] AARP Public Policy Institute. (2008). Valuing the Invaluable: The Economic Value of Family Caregiving.
[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important Facts about Falls.
[7] Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2008). Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Facts and Figures: Statistics on Hospital-Based Care in the United States.
[8] Philips. (2016). Connected Technology Solutions Dramatically Improve Medication Adherence, According to New Study from Philips.
[9] AARP. (2016). Caregivers & Technology: What They Want and Need.

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Helping Unsung Heroes Care for America’s Senior Population