Delivering Improved Care to the Elderly Population

Delivering Improved Care to the Elderly Population

Sergey Gribov, Partner and Elena Gantvarg Principal at Flint Capital

As the average life expectancy grows by leaps and bounds, so does the number of “active years” a person can expect, thus also postponing the age of retirement. Elderly people strive to maintain an active lifestyle and “age in place” as long as their health and financial situation allows them, remaining in the comfort of their homes. While aging in place, seniors still need to have support and monitoring – services that have been traditionally performed by caregivers and relatives.

This trend manifests itself in the US with the paradoxical reduction of the nursing home resident population. The number of people residing in nursing homes went down from 1.48 million in 2000 to 1.36 million in 2015, due to changes in the potential residents’ preferences, in part encouraged by Medicare policies, leading to greater propensity for the elderly to move into assisted living or to choose other community settings. The trend of aging at home has only strengthened during Covid, with 9 out of 10 seniors preferring to age at home.

"With the increased share of seniors in the overall population, there is also an increased incidence of various chronic conditions, which creates an ever-increasing demand for care."

With the increased share of seniors in the overall population, there is also an increased incidence of various chronic conditions, which creates an ever-increasing demand for care.

The demand for clinicians and caregivers outpaces the current supply across the board and affects registered nurses, physicians, and geriatricians. The trend is not limited to the United States either. The global demand for health care workers is predicted to reach 80 million, surpassing the supply, with a predicted short age of 15 million clinical workers.

The convergence of the different trends such as the aging population, “aging in place”, and the scarcity of conventional care creates a perfect storm for tech-enabled care–telehealth, prophylactic care, and self-service solutions.

As seniors are becoming  more tech savvy, they real so able to leverage conveniences such as voice assistants, virtual care agents, wearables, and mobile devices, to help meet their needs.

Age-Tech Market Trends and Opportunities

Watching the industry closely, we see the following trends unfolding:

1 “Voice First”/Audio technologies are gaining traction

We can expect to see mainstream personal assistants become more senior-friendly and integrated with a smart home environment tailored for senior citizens.

Voice tech companies focus on accelerating the adoption of the voice interfaces by seniors through simplifying communication with the voice assistants and catering to senior-specific issues which might cause speech impairment. We already see some work in this area being done both by the giants like Google, with its Project Euphonia, as well as by startups like Voiceitt.

Audio technologies also gain traction in AgeTech. Companies like Sensi focus on leveraging audio analytics-based AI to set a higher standard of care in long-term care settings. This enables care providers to offer 24/7 services, despite the massive shortage of caregivers and regardless of any patient’s financial capacity to afford round-the-clock care.

Sensi ‘learns’ the environment to set a baseline, detecting and analyzing any sound in the environment (running water, door shutting, specific people, tv sounds, cleaning activities, etc.) and is able to detect/alert of any anomalies afterwards (such as cognitive or physical decline, mental distress, unmatched routine schedule, etc

2  Comprehensive IoT solutions will replace standalone sensor solutions

As more people are choosing to age in the comfort of their homes, they discover that their homes are inadequate for that purpose. The 1st generation of age-tech solution for the home leveraged sensors and connected devices to look out for senior residents–to detect a fall, to alert caretakers about a stove that was left on or a door that was left open–but did so in isolation, every device by itself.

While we see new developments in conversational “skills” for seniors for the in-home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant, the age-tech smart home hardware is yet to follow suit.

In the future a multitude of “smart home” devices, such as wireless locator tags and monitors, thermostats, light bulbs, and camera-enabled doorbells - will all participate in monitoring and alerting. Orchestrated through common home hub platforms, in conjunction with special software services, the aggregate solutions will be enabled to cater to the senior residents.

As the home space IoT sector continues to evolve, we can expect to see fully connected homes that make “aging in place” a much more satisfying experience.

3  The future will revolve around mainstream hardware platforms

Highly specialized niche hardware will become obsolete. For example, the Apple Watch Series4 and 5 can already take ECGs, detect falls, and send an emergency alert to a medical response team.

Startups will be keen to simplify their products as much as possible and integrate into a larger care ecosystem of software and service as opposed to building out their own custom platforms and expecting their consumers to adopt it.

4  AgeTech will try hard to not look its age

The AgeTech demographic might be reluctant to view their age as more than just a number. In line with their desire for autonomy and a more active lifestyle, many of these customers would require an ‘easy’ and intuitive access to the world’s best technologies, making no excuses for age.The focus will be on “senior-aware” products instead of “senior-directed” products.

5  Wearables of the World, converge!

Just like it was in the early days of the smart home solutions for senior, the early “wearable” solutions for seniors tend to be single purpose– be it fall detection, personal emergency systems or vitals monitoring.

The wearable real estate is limited, and it is clear now that the early days of the nascent “one-trick pony” wearables are over.

Companies must be able to fit the most important senior functionality such as fall detection, communication, location tracking, and vital monitoring in one package.

6  Wearables and smart homes to integrate

The care ecosystem and health data should follow senior citizens where they go. The wearable and smart home ecosystem verticals have been evolving on two parallel tracks. The pending acquisition of FitBit by Google may be the first major step towards integration between the two.

Additionally, machine learning can work wonders with the sheer amount of data available from both wearables and home ecosystems.

7  Retire into Gig Economy

As seniors retire, they look for opportunities to maintain an active lifestyle – through part-time and seasonal jobs, volunteering or remote work. The extra cash can come in handy as well, as an average US citizen (what age?) has $200-300k in his/her account and 54 percent have less than 50k.

The gig economy offers seniors an opportunity to do just that, allowing them to gradually decrease workload and broadening employment options available to them.

In2017, it was reported that seniors are earning up to 30 percent of their income from being involved within the gig economy. We expect this trend to accelerate as governments increase pension age to catch up with life expectancy, and state-funded pensions face an impending solvency crisis.

8  Shh, Big Brothers are Listening

With the likes of Amazon and Google taking over the world of digital health, many seniors face the growing concerns about the risks of privacy invasion, which are inherent in the advanced monitoring solutions which could be employed for their own protection.

Indeed, earlier in 2019 we saw Apple, which does not heavily rely on personalized advertising unlike Facebook, Google and Amazon, began addressing this sentiment with its advertising slogan “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”.

Thus, age-tech solutions need to be able to offer their customers a full guarantee of privacy. When these solutions can detect falls without constant video recording, and understand voice commands without the accompanying suspicions of the private conversations being constantly recorded for advertising purposes, they will likely be able to find a loyal privacy-centric customer base.


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