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article imageSeniors beginning to realize digital health benefits

By Tim Sandle     Aug 8, 2017 in Health
Toronto - With the demographic shift, in many countries, where numbers of senior citizens exceed the numbers of younger people, opportunities exist for digital health solutions. The biggest obstacle will be with convincing seniors of the merits of the technology.
Across the board many people are seeing the benefits of healthcare technology. There is, however, a demographic divide. This is a divide that needs to be closed in order to make healthcare more accessible and to push forward with healthcare improvements. This represent an opportunity for businesses to capture a relatively underdeveloped area of the digital health market. To tap into this, however, will require creating products seniors want to use and which they can use intuitively.
To illustrate the difference between demographic groups, as well as the opportunities that exist for digital health providers in terms of a relatively untapped market, a new survey called ‘Digital Life’, conducted by Telus Health, shows that senior citizens are most likely, of any population group, to benefit from digital health technology. However, the survey suggests they are the least likely group to access digital solutions (which fits with other reports into the generation gap and 'digital illiteracy', especially among the elderly who are sometimes nervous about accessing digital services).
While the survey focused on Canada, the trends detected in the survey are applicable to most other industrialized nations (for instance only 40 percent of adults over 50 own a smartphone, and only 11 percent of this group own a wearable device, according to AARP research). The overall findings, while showing a need for health technology with seniors, present challenges to technology manufacturers in ensuing that the products are suitable and that they are marketed appropriately.
Social gathering for seniors.
Social gathering for seniors.
The survey also found:
87 percent of respondents agreed that accessible, secure information-sharing between individuals and healthcare professionals would have a positive impact on the health.
Over 60 percent of those surveyed agreed that digital technology plays an important role in managing their health.
Over 90 percent of people stated that technology that enables their independence and ensures safety and security is important.
The new survey found lower take-ups of digital health solutions among Canadian citizens who were baby boomers (that is age 52 and over) and the elderly (classed as age 71 and over). While take-up of health technology was low among these groups (around 20 percent), what is of interest to businesses is that around two-thirds of respondents felt that digital health technologies would benefit them. This highlights an opportunity to heath technology companies; the work is not so much around the technology (although there are innovations to come), but more around the way health technology is marketed. Glossy pull-outs in magazines, for instance, may be less successful in persuading seniors than hands-on demos in clinics and shopping malls, for example.
Connecting with seniors is the key, according to Dr. Susan Lea-Makenny, who is director and senior medical advisor at the INLIV Clinic and who was involved with survey. Quoted by the website Mobile Syrup, she states: "The ‘Silver Tsunami’ we’re seeing in Canada tells us that not only is it increasingly important to educate Canadians about the impact technology can have on health outcomes but also to ensure we are maximizing the opportunity to put these digital health tools in place so all patients and their care providers can stay better connected." The reference to The Silver Tsunami is a commonly used metaphor used to describe population aging.
Two seniors relaxing on a bench
A man listens to his iPod while the woman fills out a crossword puzzle
By Ed Yourdon
There are a number of products available that can benefit seniors, as well as digital developments that can make their lives easier (such as the use of digital technology to renew prescriptions). Some of these are bad examples, where design thinking into what an 85-year-old would be looking for in terms of the usability of that product has missed the mark.
However, there are many good examples of innovative healthcare technology aimed at seniors; including smart inhalers to help with chronic disease management where the progress with conditions like asthma can be monitored remotely, with important data transmitted to medics, saving seniors time in terms of reducing medical visits. This is on the basis that most chronic diseases are best managed through daily attention to detail. These 'smart' devices are part of the extension of the 'Internet-of-Things' into healthcare.
An example of a smart inhaler  as imagined by Teva Pharmaceuticals.
An example of a smart inhaler, as imagined by Teva Pharmaceuticals.
Teva pharmaceuticals
A second area of development is with apps offering tailored exercise regimes, many of which are targeted at seniors. Some platforms offer 'live' exercise sessions, with the trainer in the gym broadcasting the latest fitness programs to people in their homes. This is part of the developing remote health market. Different types of apps allow users with diabetes to track their carbohydrate and nutrition intake and blood glucose levels; such apps can also offer tips on what to eat and how to get active, with a goal of inspiring better disease management.
FreeStyle Libre  a new glucose wearable;e tech device from Abbott.
FreeStyle Libre, a new glucose wearable;e tech device from Abbott.
Abbott Pharmaceuticals
Other technologies are aimed at those who care for the elderly. While caregivers have been generally under-represented in the digital health market, there are some innovations, such as allowing caregivers to see test results and other medical records, in one place, for those they care for; and being able to to use apps that can link to reliable medical sources, allowing the caregiver to read up on different medical conditions.
A smart meter
A smart meter
Duke Energy
Improved communications is also a key part of the digital technology being developed — such as the ability to book appointments via apps; or text-style messages sent out when medications run low.
Furthermore, there are digital pill dispensers. These are connected devices that can hold a 90-day supply of up to 15 medications. The smart technology can alert both the patient and caregivers via text and email when the medication needs to be refilled. The digital health device also helps to remind people when the pills need to be taken.
A different type of technology can help to make the home more comfortable. These are controls that are remotely programmed to set thermostat and temperature levels. Specially designed sensors can detect when a window has been left open or if the environment is high in humidity which could be potentially harmful to the home’s resident. Monitors and sensors can also help to track behavior patterns and alert medical professionals to potential risks. This type of technology helps seniors to maintain independent living for longer and it also helps family members and healthcare providers monitor patients.
While other Asian countries with elderly populations -- such as Japan and Singapore -- have the mone...
While other Asian countries with elderly populations -- such as Japan and Singapore -- have the money to plan for welfare, middle-income Thailand is getting old before it gets rich
Lillian Suwanrumpha, AFP
These types of technologies, coupled with survey results and the need to overcome the perceptions that many seniors hold with regards to the technology, highlight the fact that the methods of tailoring healthcare and technology to seniors need to shift towards technology that is focused on the people first and the technology second. Great success will probably arise from designing solutions around the specific health needs of seniors, making the product or service easy to adopt to combat the technology learning curve.
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