How IoT Can Help With the Aging Population Problem

The world is still figuring out how best to care for aging populations whose life expectancies are only increasing. IoT has the power to enhance elder medical care. It can lower costs and risks while improving quality of life.

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Image of a grandma doll with a jar of jam

The world faces a pressing question: how can we care for aging citizens who are only getting older as life expectancy (LE) increases? Statistics from the World Bank show a steady rise in the numbers of people over 65 since 1960. The challenge persists regardless of a country’s economic status or location.

A study produced in part by the Census Bureau warns of the aging population nearly doubling in number by 2050, while the global LE at birth rises by almost eight years.

Some of the technologies associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) could help with elder medical care, particularly in these five ways.

1. Reducing Falls

Data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that at least 300,000 older people per year become hospitalized for hip fractures and 95 percent of those injuries happen because of falls.

However, researchers in Illinois developed a wearable device with an accelerometer that measured gait patterns and unsteadiness while walking or standing. The scientists combined data from the connected accelerometer with information about the patient’s fall history. They then found it was possible to predict the likelihood of falls.

Muscle weakness and poor vision both make falls more likely. But the researchers who designed that elder medical care IoT device for predicting falls envision a future in which people have smartphone apps to pinpoint fall risks and transmit the data to doctors who could take preventive action.

2. Promoting Medication Adherence

Rising health care costs are a big concern among the economic issues associated with aging. Besides the potential increase in hospital visits, as many adults age, they need in-home health help to handle things like medication adherence.

IoT can be used to address this problem area in elder medical care. A report from Berg Insight examined the use of IoT devices for medication dispensation throughout Europe. The firm’s projections predict 2.2 million devices will be in use on the continent by 2022. That’s a substantial increase—especially considering that there were only 138,000 such accessories in Europe in 2016. What’s more, IoT could generate billions in new revenue for the healthcare industry.

These elder medical care IoT solutions tell health professionals when patients take medications and whether they do so as instructed. Therefore, such technologies could reduce or eliminate costly in-home visits related to prescribed injected or ingested medicines. And, of course, it could improve quality of life for our aging relatives in the process.

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3. IoT Generates Data for Improving Elder Care Experiences

All U.S. nursing homes participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs must carry out a Minimum Data Set (MDS) assessment. It measures the characteristics of all residents and helps identify health problems. High-tech MDS analysis tools help providers spot trends and become more proactive as they endeavor to provide the best possible outcomes for all residents.

Many hospitals and similar facilities already use data-collecting devices that keep tabs on things like patient vitals or the locations of individual patients.

Then, staff members receive alerts of unusual circumstances and can intervene before crises happen, thereby minimizing emergencies and the expenses they bring.

4. IoT Can Facilitate Independent Living

A study published in 2002 asserted that by 2030, the economic burden associated with aging should not be greater than the economic impacts of raising the baby boom generation in the 1960s—that is, if social and public policy changes occurred without delay.

Those predictions are undoubtedly important. Governments must account for an increasingly older demographic.

However, we should also explore how connected home devices could make those economic burdens more manageable. Smart home devices make homes safer and more convenient for inhabitants. They could help older adults stay in their homes and maintain independence when, in traditional settings, they would’ve had to enter a nursing home.

For example, smart speakers connect with lights or thermostats to let people alter aspects of their homes without leaving the couch. Voice control would empower bedridden or partially disabled people to engage with their physical surroundings. IoT sensors for showerheads or faucets monitor the water temperature and shut off the flow if it gets too hot, which could mitigate the risk of related accidents.

An IBM employee invented a smart barcode that, when scanned with a smartphone, sends information to an intelligent oven and automatically programs the device to cook the scanned food at the right temperature and for the proper time. That kind of technology could be ideal for people whose poor vision prevents them from reading packaging directions.

5. Combating Social Isolation

As people get older, they often find it progressively difficult to maintain friendships. Then, loneliness sets in, and individuals become at risk of isolating themselves from society. Loneliness can kill.

Some purposeful IoT devices help prevent senior suicides and general loneliness even if age makes face-to-face interactions difficult.

Such elder medical care IoT devices might help people connect with loved ones by using voice commands. They might provide maintenance-free companions like robotic pets that keep users entertained. Other devices track movement and give notifications to loved ones if a user doesn’t leave the house when expected for appointments or exercise.

Tech Provides Solutions to Support an Aging Population

Elder medical care IoT is not the fix-all option for the aging society. However, as this list shows, it can support its members and their caregivers, improving the quality of life of all involved.