by WEX Health
Digital health technologies are becoming ever more popular with young, tech-savvy consumers, who are using them for everything from step tracking to personal genetic testing. But the rate of adoption is much lower for seniors—which is a shame, because older adults arguably have much more to gain from these tools.
Here’s a look at some of the options available, the benefits they can deliver for seniors, and why digital technology can be well worth the investment and learning curve.
- Access to health information and services. A vast array of healthcare information is housed online—everything from searching symptoms on WebMD to appointment-making to video consultations with professionals. Because such resources can be accessed from the comfort of home, they’re an ideal way to reach seniors. The technological learning curve can be a problem, but seniors overall are much savvier than they’re often given credit for, and simple instructions from caregivers can be all that’s needed.
- Social media and online communications. Isolation and loneliness often become a problem for older adults, but social media can give them both a network of remote contacts and a way to communicate and connect with local friends. And learning to use texting apps or FaceTime can make it easier for them to stay in touch with loved ones. The greatest obstacle here is lack of computer and smartphone literacy, but the AARP reports that technology training classes have been successful in helping seniors conquer their fears and expand their digital worlds.
- Traditional fitness trackers. Staying active is one of the best ways to remain healthy and independent, and studies show that fitness trackers are a useful tool for reminding people to get out of their chairs and get their daily steps in. These devices can also analyze heart rate, detect stress levels and monitor sleep. All of this gives older adults useful data to help them take charge of their own health, and the information can also be used by healthcare providers to monitor a patient’s progress or to open a conversation about an area of concern.
- Other wearables. Beyond the fitness trackers worn on the wrist, there are a broad array of wearables designed to assist seniors in everyday life. Hearing aids are one of the most common wearables and can be integrated with smartphones to help people better use the phone. Another type of wearable is an emergency call button, either designed to be pressed to call for help or to automatically detect a fall. If dementia or wandering is a concern, there are GPS transmitters that can make a person trackable, for instance fitted inside a shoe. It’s possible to set a system perimeter and have an alert go out as soon as the person leaves that safe zone. Other wearable devices can monitor blood sugar, body temperature or blood pressure.
- Genetic testing. DNA tests can help seniors better understand their particular health risks and can help guide doctors in thinking about their medical care. Such tests provide a large amount of useful information, which can be interpreted with the help of third-party apps designed to make sense of it all. Or sometimes a healthcare provider orders and interprets genetic testing. Down the road, these tests will be an integral part of a “precision medicine” approach, which considers individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle to help healthcare professionals develop a customized wellness plan for each individual.
- Smart home systems. These systems, which are often controlled by smartphone app, can offer motion sensors, intercom systems, automatic door locking, and detection of everything from stove burners to toilet flushes. There is a learning curve and some setup involved, but the potential benefits for seniors who want to remain independent in their homes is huge. And for caregivers and concerned relatives, there are even passive monitoring systems that can learn a senior’s routines and send out alerts if there are unexpected changes. For example, if a person normally eats three meals a day, such a system can detect that the refrigerator is being opened less often and send out an alert that the senior’s appetite may be decreasing.
- Social robots. Also called personal service robots, these innovative devices can serve a variety of functions for an older adult living alone. They can monitor the senior’s activities, provide conversation, help connect with loved ones, detect falls, summon help, and read books, among other possibilities. Several companies have tried and failed to bring such robots to the commercial market, but less-robust alternatives like Amazon’s Alexa, chatbots and high-tech pets are already performing some of these functions.
Digital health technologies are particularly effective when paired with monitoring by caregivers or healthcare professionals who can help to interpret the data and step in to offer support when needed. As devices get smaller, more powerful and easier to use by the year, it’s well worth looking into how technologies can help seniors stay healthier, safer and more socially active for longer than ever before.
Employers today should speak directly to each generation’s life circumstances and present-day concerns. Continue reading our blog for more info on how to talk to Baby Boomers about their healthcare benefits.