Last week was Stanford’s Medicine X conference, a five-day gathering dedicated to exploring how emerging technology can enhance the practice of medicine. On Saturday, the conference held a panel that looked specifically at aging adults and the way that new health technologies, from smart phone apps to tailored devices, could be used to improve healthcare and enhance independence.
Older adults make up a large segment of the population, and this number is only going to rise since the rest of the baby boomers are expected to retire within the next decade. It is crucial that the healthcare system is able to meet the needs of this graying population and to engage them and their families.
For example, customization was covered as a key need for the future. Sixty percent of older adults have some kind of sensory deficiency such as impaired vision or hearing, reduced sense of touch, or poorer memory function. Many medical devices take a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t take these differing needs into account. One of the panelists, Christopher Snider, used himself and his wife—both diabetics—to illustrate this point. He asked if he would still be able to hear or feel his glucose monitor alerts as he ages, particularly if it went off late at night. The idea of a model tailored to older adults that uses vibration or some other form of direct stimulation (“seismic shift” was one phrase used) to deliver alerts was discussed.
Recognizing and accounting for these kinds of needs is why the panel encouraged the greater inclusion of patients—particularly older patients—into the design process. Training was also stressed for everyone involved in a person’s care from the patient to the doctor to their families. No piece of technology can help if people don’t know how to use it, after all. When the potential for dementia (current or future) is included, the involvement of family or caregivers becomes additionally necessary. Giving patients wearable or personal technology, like insulin pumps, and the training to use them, can help maintain adult independence and reduce reliance on caregivers while helping to close the digital divide.
Ultimately, this particular Stanford Medicine X panel stressed the need for technology to take the needs of aging adults into account during the design process and to learn from their situations. By doing so, devices and programs can be better tailored to support the unique challenges of aging and to preserve health and independence.
Huber, J., “How can technology address the health needs of aging adults? A Medicine X panel offers tips,” Scope web site, September 18, 2016; http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2016/09/18/how-can-technology-address-the-health-needs-of-aging-adults-a-medicine-x-panel-offers-tips/, last accessed September 19, 2016.