With the earliest of the baby boomers now in their 70s and 10,000 people turning 65 daily in the US, one of the most pressing questions that Americans need to ask is, who will be providing care? By 2020, 117 million Americans are expected to need care of some kind, yet the overall number of caregivers is only expected to reach 50 million, according to AARP’s 2016 Caregiving Innovation Frontiers study.
Professional caregivers are in high demand. Even informal caregivers, more than 30%, call on professional help time to time. However, low pay, poor benefits, and adverse working conditions equates to a shortage of professional caregivers, a trend that has no end in sight, reports this 2018 Forbes article.
Caregiving technology is one way to fill the gap. As this 2017 article in the journal mHealth notes, in an age when doctor shortages are imminent worldwide, the number of patients [and caregivers] turning to technological solutions is likely to increase. To that end, informal and formal caregiver-focused tech companies, ranging from incumbent to startup, are scurrying to find the right solutions that will entice adoption and make a difference in an aging society.
A quick look at technology for caregiving
Using technology for remote monitoring of independent seniors dates back to the 70’s when Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) hit the market and, in the mid-80’s, gained broad awareness with Life Alert’s “help I’ve fallen and can’t get up” marketing campaigns.
Virtual health isn’t exactly new either, but it will likely soon become the go-to for seniors, given that our connected world now allows for real-time connection between patients and physicians/caregivers from any device, anywhere and at any time.
The global adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) and artificial intelligence (AI) may be a testament to John Sculley’s 2014 book, Moonshot, where he states our lives will be dominated by the “high-tech tsunami” of cloud, wireless sensors, big data, and mobile. Without doubt, this tsunami will increasingly dominate senior care and, provide support for caregivers.
Consider smart health, where disruptive technology has been developed to use wireless sensors in conjunction with big data, AI, and wearable devices like watches, smart activity trackers, and smart clothes. Combined, these devices learn the behaviors and patterns of individuals and through analytical processing and predictive analysis, will alert caregivers both during and before an issues arises so immediate action can be taken. Additionally is the emergence of cloud-connected fall detection via wearable sensors that eliminates dedicated base stations, and are cost effective. Disruptive indeed.
Robotics. Yes, robots.
In our high-tech world, it’s no surprise that robots are playing a role in senior care. For instance, memory care communities now use robots like Paro, an adorable robotic seal developed in Japan, to provide companionship to people with dementia.
Japan, the world’s third oldest nation, will employ over 1 million robots throughout industries by 2025 including the utilization of robots to alleviate a projected shortfall of 370,000 caregivers (Time, 2018). Robots in healthcare will span a wide range of applications, including predicting when patients might need to use the toilet, notes this 2018 article from The Guardian.
As technology continues to evolve at lighting pace, a global aging population set to double from 2017 to 2050 (U.N., 2017), and adult-dependency rates decline, the socioeconomic impact is of great concern. Introducing caregiving robots is not a question of if, but when―probably not in the form of the Terminator, but just as intelligent.