After world war II, advances in medicine led to a global increase in life expectancy. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there will be 1.5 billion people aged 65 or older by 2050. One of the challenges of this elderly population is the increased need for care.
The arrival of the internet in the late 20th century ushered in the digital revolution, which affected every facet of human endeavor, including healthcare. Its transformation in the healthcare space birthed digital health, which has essentially changed the face of medical practice, including, of course, elderly care. This revolution is also much needed to lower the pressure on the national health systems.
What is Elderly Care?
According to the United Nations, anyone above the age of 65 years is considered elderly. Elderly care is the care rendered to people aged 65 and above to meet their special needs. Elderly care takes different forms in different parts of the world; in Africa, this care is delivered mainly informally by untrained and unpaid relatives.
In Europe, there is a mix of informal care, government and private institutional care in nursing and elderly homes. In America, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world, there is a similar mix of institutional care and family members pitching in. Elderly care delivery services include healthcare, personal care, household maintenance, mental health care, and more.
How has Digital Health Transformed Elderly Care?
Digital health has transformed elderly care in several ways. Naturally, it has had the most impact on the healthcare component of elderly care. With appropriate technology, the care the elderly need is just a click away. Here are some aspects of health care for the elderly and how digital health has transformed them.
Health promotion is central to ensuring the health of any population, including seniors. It provides education, skills, and an environment to help people live a healthier lifestyle. Digital health has been a helpful tool in disseminating health information in the elderly population through health literacy apps and websites for the elderly.
Many Apps are exclusively designed for this purpose. These apps provide information concerning diet plans, fitness, and exercise, tracking vital signs, medical emergency guides, and more. This has empowered senior citizens to make healthier choices and prevent many disease conditions.
The elderly population has the highest risk of non-communicable diseases. Most chronic diseases require regular health checks. These doctor appointments are challenging for the elderly due to mobility issues and the cross-infection risks during these appointments. Digital health helps to bridge this divide.
Doctors can now schedule an appointment with elderly patients using telemedicine platforms. This spares the elderly the trouble of leaving home for health checks, except if it is essential.
Health Remote Monitoring
Older adults often require long-term care for chronic diseases. Many of them forget to take their medication. There are digital solutions in the form of apps that can provide a reminder and monitor seniors’ compliance with their medications. If the app is linked to a provider, it also helps the provider generate health data that can be used to deliver personalized patient care.
Some artificial intelligence-aided devices have also been created to help seniors live healthier lives. Some of these devices include biometric trackers, smartwatches, AI-aided hearing aids, and fall detectors, which protect the elderly against hazards that would otherwise have occurred. Some companies like Medical Guardian offer a complete range of devices to protect the elderly living alone.
Keeping them in Community
One major challenge faced by the elderly is social isolation. Online community and digital platforms can reduce the mental and physical health risks associated with this population through interaction with peers and making new friends.
Virtual companions are also helping to meet the needs of seniors for on-demand companionship.
Institutionalized care in healthcare organizations comes with many challenges that make home care for the elderly to be the preferred option for many people. Many digital solutions can help informal caregivers get the training they need to render appropriate care to their relatives and keep them out of institutional homes as long as possible.
Challenges of Digital Health In Elderly Care
There are some challenges associated with implementing digital solutions for care among the elderly. This includes:
1. Digital Exclusion: In some parts of the world (especially the developing world), some people are yet to be mainstream with digital health technologies. These groups of people stand the risk of being completely left behind in the digital health revolution in elderly care.
2. Digital Illiteracy: A good number of baby boomers have poor digital skills, making it difficult for them to use digital technologies to enhance their health.
3. AI-related digital technologies are quite expensive and may not be affordable to low-income earners.
In the last few years, digital health has transformed care for the elderly. It is expected that with increasing life expectancy, this revolution will continue with subsequent generations and completely change the way care is delivered to the elderly and improve their quality of life.
The challenges of providing digital health solutions for elderly care can easily be overcome by increased investments in health education and development. As the world’s elderly population continues to grow, its investment in digital health technologies must continue to grow with it.
Digital health technologies are the world’s best bet for improved health and quality of life for the elderly. Healthcare organizations that focus on elderly care need to adopt these technologies early and identify other areas where digital health can make a difference.
For the world to be ready for the 1.5 billion seniors we will have in 2050; then the work to digitalize senior care must begin now