Health IT

5 ways healthcare innovators are helping old people

Baby boomers may be graying, but the healthcare innovations that will serve them are cutting edge. The AARP has launched a competition to reward startups who are serving the 50-and-older crowd. But there are already scores of funds, research institutions and entrepreneurs looking to serve the gray-haired set.

Here are five innovations that the elder set will really enjoy in their sunset years:

Affordable in-home care. Startup company N2Care is launching portable medical homes called MedCottages to make in-home care for the elderly more affordable. The setup is like a mobile hospital room with a small kitchen, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and a bedroom equipped with medical and remote-monitoring technology. It can be temporarily placed on a caregiver’s property for someone needing rehabilitation or long-term care. It includes devices to measure vital signs, plus motion sensors to detect falls and a communication system for both monitoring and notification.


Remote monitoring. One area companies and hospitals have identified to facilitate the transition from the hospital, particularly patients that have recently had heart surgery, for example, is remote monitoring. Healthsense develops products in this area such as with its eNeighbor device that uses wireless technology with motion and contact sensors that are placed around the living area. In a more quirky deployment of sensors, Anind Dey’s dWellSense‘s technology can embed sensors into ordinary objects such as a telephone, coffeemaker or pillbox to track improvements on or deviations from routine activities. The sensors will alert the user or their family members to the possible onset of health problems.

Virtual coaching. Jim Osborn, executive director of the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, said devices that are integrated with seniors’ existing mobile devices or in-home appliances could provide objective information about how well they are doing at maintaining their health, their homes or their social lives. First Person Vision has developed a pair of eyeglasses equipped with cameras that can recognize what someone is doing and provide intelligence about how to do it better or prompt the user through forgotten names or next steps.

Promoting wellness. One group is developing a suite of apps to promote wellness and facilitate recovery. Virtual Coach Apps’ Head Coach for Balance Therapy is a smartphone app that has users carry out prescribed clinical or rehabilitation exercises in their homes or rooms without visits to the physical therapist or occupational therapist. Exercises track a user’s progress and performance, and then help him or her transmit the data for review.

Socialization. One of the most troubling aspects of growing old is the potential for isolation when a senior outlives a spouse or partner and no longer has the ability to drive. Some companies are providing transportation services for seniors like SilverRide, a San Francisco-based car service. Although using the Internet to connect with people with similar interests remotely is helpful, after a certain age it’s often not a practical option, said Scott Collins, the CEO of Link-age Connect, a company that provides and invests in solutions to seniors.

Osborn added: “There’s likely no single technology that every senior is going to want. But it is probably safe to say that most will value technologies that enable them to preserve their ability to take care of themselves, live where and how they choose, and manage their own affairs.”

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user jencu]