Imagine having the clock radio signal the coffee maker to start brewing after waking its owner every morning.

That, and much more, is possible because of the Internet of Things and the Internet of Medical Things.

The Internet of Things makes it possible for home appliances and vehicles, such as wheelchairs, to exist as part of a network and to communicate with one another.

The Internet of Medical Things is similar but limited to medical devices that connect to healthcare information technology systems.

Designed to forestall direct human care and enable seniors to remain safely in the home well into their older years, these technologies are poised to change the way seniors live.  Even medical testing can occur in the home.

In sum, these alternate internets could substantially lower the cost of care and change the way care is received.

Already Here and On the Horizon

Many systems and devices are already available, while others are being developed to accommodate the swelling population of seniors expected to overwhelm the system.  Here are some of the emergent technologies set to shake up the way in which seniors receive supervision, prompting and medical attention:

Disability assistance tools: The PIPS system, made by Nominet, offers customizable colored buttons installed in the residence to remind seniors to perform activities of daily living, such as brushing their teeth.  When a task is complete, the user pushes the button which triggers a prompt to perform the next task.  Some systems are being developed for voice recognition to reduce the use of buttons and screens. https://www.nominet.uk/nominet-launches-free-iot-solution-help-sensory-cognitive-impairments/

Smart implants: Glucose sensors, smart implants for knees, shoulders and spines, orthopedic implants ( https://orthosensor.com/) and dedicated readers can communicate patient data via smartphone app to a physician.  Real-time data is conveyed, allowing physicians to initiate intervention, as needed, and spare the user trips to the doctor’s office for follow-up.

Portable diagnostic devices: This class of device allows users to perform diagnostic testing on urine and blood in their homes. 1Drop Diagnostics is one company developing home diagnostic technology for blood testing.  https://www.mobihealthnews.com/content/1drop-diagnostics-draws-425m-portable-blood-diagnostic-panel

Diagnostic wearables: Openwater is developing technology that will provide high-resolution MRI-level information about the wearer.  It is anticipated these systems will “enable detection and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, internal bleeding, mental diseases, neurodegenerative diseases”. https://www.openwater.cc/technology

Daily activity monitoring: Systems already exist that can track activity and the performance of activities of daily living.  Wearables, such as smart shoes (https://born2invest.com/articles/smart-shoes-prevents-falls-saves-lives/) and smart hats, are also being developed. “Observations of daily living” form a machine-learned pattern for individual users so abnormal behavior can trigger alerts to designated individuals.  For instance, if a user doesn’t eat or get up from bed in the morning, the change in routine is noted and a signal is sent to alert an emergency contact. http://stanstips.com/lively-activity-sensors-for-living-independently/

Nutrition monitoring: ChefMyself is a European project that aims to encourage good eating habits in seniors still able to cook for themselves.  The system relies on a cloud-based connection to monitor weight (using wireless scales) and food consumption, and also to offer a recipe library, shopping and cooking assistance. https://www.meteda.it/en/product/chefmyself/

Navigation for the visually impaired: A variety of systems help the visually impaired by enabling them to safely navigate using technology.  These systems detect and classify obstacles (both static and dynamic).  They can further recognize objects like traffic lights and crosswalks.  https://gowithfloat.com/2016/10/9-outdoor-navigation-apps-people-visual-impairments/

Item locators: Bluetooth-based systems help track and find objects within a house, such as keys, eyeglasses and cell phones. https://findorbit.com/orbit_us/glasses/

Self-learning kitchen appliances: In addition to functioning as a smoke and heat detector, the self-learning stove develops insight into its users cooking habits.  If the stove is left on, the user (or another designee) will receive an alert.  When a smart barcode is connected to a smart oven, the oven can determine if an item is fresh or frozen and cook the food at the appropriate temperature.  (https://www.foodandwine.com/news/tovala-smart-oven-barcode-scan-trader-joesSmart)  Refrigerators can sense spoiled food and order needed groceries. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/50364798/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/t/lg-smart-fridge-spots-spoiled-food-orders-groceries#.XJJxqbhOmM8

The Cautions

As is always the case with technology, concerns abound relative to user acceptance and privacy.  People who are seniors today have not likely been exposed to a great deal of technology and may show no interest in it.  Importantly, however, Baby Boomers are more comfortable with technology and seem poised to accept it, particularly given the savings it may offer by delaying more traditional care options.

Privacy and Wi-Fi connectivity are modern problems introduced by nearly all the technology we so commonly use today.  Legitimate questions surround the possibilities of lost connections and hacking.  These problems will need to be addressed and made less threatening for widespread adoption of technology as the new frontier of senior care.

Because of demographic shifts (fewer caregivers will be available relative to the number of care receivers) and rising costs for caregivers and residential facilities, it appears inevitable that technology will become a more attractive and accepted option in the years to come.

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