I was quoted extensively in a Sunday Boston Globe feature on the IoT. It was in a special section aimed at seniors, and I’d been really passionate with the reporter about the IoT’s potential to transform seniors’ lives through new products such as bedroom slippers with sensors that can detect minute variations in a senior’s gait and alert a caregiver by app in time to avoid a fall, or a gorgeous necklace that can detect the onset of congestive heart failure). However, the article just ended up as a general introduction to the IoT.
While I was doing the interview, it dawned on me that this might really be a wonderful niche in the Internet of Things. You see, I spend part of my time caring for two seniors who have faced serious health challenges, and it has really opened my eyes to the potential benefits of ambitious IoT programs for seniors.
We don’t have any time to lose: I’ve heard that a third of all doctors in the US will retire in the next decade, while they and about 10,000 others will turn 65 each day. There is simply no way that we can sustain this loss of medical professionals just when they are needed more than ever without fundamental change in the health care system!
To me, what the IoT represents is an opportunity for a fundamental change in the doctor-patient relationship, with empowered patients becoming full partners in their care through self-monitoring. It will end the historic pattern, driven by necessity, of placing most emphasis on encounters in the doctor’s office, where the patient is forced to recall his or her symptoms, perhaps from several weeks ago, with no objective way of measuring them (not to mention factors such as “white-coat hypertension,” that may be induced by the very setting of the encounter. My blood pressure always goes up in my doctor’s office because she’s on the third floor, and I go up the stairs quickly rather than taking the elevator). Instead, the patient will generate a constant stream of data, and, over time, we will evolve efficient ways of reporting the spikes in readings to the doctor in a way that might actually trigger preventive care to avoid an incident, or at least provide an objective means of judging its severity to improve the quality of care.
Let’s also not forget about the benefits to seniors living alone and their families living miles away, of smart home devices.
I’m going to make this a major focus of my future IoT work, in large part because my personal experience working with seniors’ health needs has sensitized me to the wide range of issues that successful IoT solutions for senior must address:
- ease-0f-use, especially for those who aren’t comfortable with technology or who face issues such as diminished vision or arthritis
- non-stigmatizing: hey, grey hair is enough of an identifier: seniors don’t need other things that would further identify and isolate them
- privacy and security: seniors are already targets of enough scams and efforts to exploit them: they don’t need to become even more vulnerable, especially regarding something as critical as their health
- affordability: especially with devices that they might be expected to pay for entirely or in part. That can be difficult on a fixed income
- can they encourage mutual support? I’ve seen first-hand how mutual support from an exercise group can encourage frail elders to keep exercising. Done right, I suspect apps that let you voluntarily share data might be very effective motivators
- fostering independence: smart home apps that might help seniors manage household functions easily, as well as ones that could be monitored remotely by their adult children, might increase the chance they could stay in their homes independently for longer, an important factor in both reducing hospitalization costs and fostering self-worth.
What other factors do you think might be relevant to creating effective IoT devices for seniors? Let me know.
The other day I had an e-mail exchange with one of my fav IoT pioneers, Dulcie Madden of Rest Devices, maker of the PEEKO “onesie” for babies, which (among other things) can reduce the possibility of SIDS among babies. Years ago, I was a day-care teacher, and now that I help care for seniors, I’ve noticed how similar their needs can be. IMHO, infant care and senior care are two of the most promising areas for life-improving IoT solutions. For both social and economic reasons, they should be a priority.