Because most people want to spend their senior years at home rather than in a senior living community, and because there won’t be enough personal caregivers to support the health and well being of that population, a vast assortment of home health care technologies has emerged.
These technologies, for the most part, enable remote monitoring of a senior, let’s call her the "monitoree," by a family member or caregiving entity to ensure that she is safe and functioning at her calibrated capacities.
Let’s break these technologies down into two arbitrary groups:
Some of these technologies are “active.” That is, they require the monitoree to input some information into a digital interface, whether it’s a blood sugar reading or some other vital sign, or one side of a dialogue designed to determine present mental acuity and physical health. GE has conceived a system that will read your palm print on your bathroom mirror each morning, and dispense your daily dose of medications according to your readings.
Other technologies are “passive.” That is, the monitoree’s daily life is tracked (don’t use that word) by some form of sensor, whether it’s mounted in a corner of each room, worn around the wrist, or plugged into the coffeemaker and other devices to check off the items of a daily routine. If you’re the monitoree, it’s reassuring to note that all of these technologies were created as much for you as for your daughter, so she can simply glance at her cellphone from 1000 miles away and make sure you’re okay, or at least probably alive.
Seemingly, there’s a new home health care technology appearing every day. The market is fragmented and there’s no clear industry leader or standard. So where is all this going? Which technology will become the iPhone of home health care? Will it actually be the iPhone/iWatch combination or some other wearable device?
It probably will be a passive device of some kind. The problem with active technologies is that if you’re healthy enough to use them, you think you don’t need them; and if you need them, you may not be healthy enough to use them.
So will it be a wearable? That requires you to actually wear it. That’s not a problem for you or me, but it may well be for a memory-impaired parent. And, wearable devices need to be recharged, and worn so that the sensors engage correctly. That may entail regular assistance.
Let’s take a leap into the near future and see what’s looming behind the curtain, and soon to be under your skin. That’s right: implantables. That just immediately conjures up images of a dystopian society ruled by computer overlords, doesn’t it? But hold on. Implantables may not be as farfetched and heinous as you imagine.
For instance, from an article on wtvox.com:
- Dozens of medical issues from heart murmurs to anxiety have initiatives under way that combine implants with smartphone monitoring. For example, a bionic pancreas being tested at Boston University has a tiny sensor on an implantable needle that monitors blood-sugar levels for diabetics and reports to a smartphone.
- Scientists in London are developing swallowable capsule-sized circuits that monitor fat levels in obese patients and generate genetic material that makes them feel “full.”
- A British research team is developing cyber-pills with microprocessors in them that can text doctors directly from inside your body. The pills help doctors know if you are taking your medication properly and if it is having the desired effect.
- Smart Dust, arrays of full computers with antennas each much smaller than a grain of sand organize themselves inside the body into networks to power a whole range of complex internal processes. Imagine swarms of these attacking early cancer or bringing pain relief to a wound
- And to power these implantables, a team at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working on biodegradable batteries that generate power inside the body, transfer it wirelessly where needed, and then simply melt away. Another project is looking at how to use the body’s own glucose to generate power for implantables.
If all this is possible, can the implantable senior monitor be far behind? Of course, we already plant geo-locator chips in our wayward pets, but how personally distasteful would it be to you to have a device implanted in your forgetful father that would not only tell you via smartphone where he is, but how fast his heart is beating, if he’s taken his blood-pressure medicine, if he slept last night, and if he’s eaten today and gone to the bathroom?
For some people, that may well be too much information.