There are many challenges of providing long term care to people who need help with activities of daily living, including how to minimize physical limitations, how to assure safety, how to help clients remain as independent as possible, and how to control costs. Inventors have stepped up with some technology solutions to these challenges, which include everything from non-slip socks to high tech robotic technologies.
For example, wearable medical alert pedants have been popular for years, so seniors who might fall can set off an alarm and get quick help. Now there are enhanced alert technologies: motion sensors, bed and chair alarms, and automatic fall detectors the patient can wear. There are sensors that can alert caregivers of changes in sleep quality, or heart and breathing rates. “Smart textiles” have circuity built into clothing; for example, pants that can tell whether the wearer has fallen; heart monitor shirts; a bowel monitor embedded into clothing that alerts the user to get to a bathroom. A cell phone app gives the user a portable way to track vital signs.
For seniors suffering from memory loss or dementia, wandering can be a problem: radio-frequency transmitters, global positioning systems (GPS), and cellular signal-based systems are available for tracking the patient. A transmitter can be worn in a bracelet or ankle strap, or embedded in clothing. There are shoes that have GPS embedded in the sole.
For Alzheimer’s, there is new technology that addresses the health condition itself: for example, the Ybrain wearable device stimulates brain activity. The device, which can be worn at home, consists of a headband with two sensors in the front that emit electronic signals. Clinical trials indicate that wearing the device for about half an hour a day is 20% more effective than taking oral Alzheimer’s medications. Another possible solution being studied is ultrasound devices for Alzheimer’s treatment.
Digital memory devices include hand-held memory aids which allow the user to record reminders about appointments, tasks, medication, passwords, etc. Another helpful memory aid is automated medication dispensers that alert the user when it’s time to take a pill.
Technologies to facilitate communication are constantly being improved. Alternative communication devices can supplement or replace speech and writing when an individual’s ability to communicate is temporarily or permanently impaired. For the hard of hearing, incoming and outgoing voice amplification can improve telephone calls. Touch screens and graphic interfaces can help those with hearing or vision problems, by using large numbers and icons, voice controls and other innovations.
Computer interfaces can provide social connection and entertainment for long term care patients who might otherwise be isolated. Games can provide mental and physical stimulation and promote fitness.
Electronic health records maintain complete information about patients including their conditions, allergies, medications, needs and preferences, in one place. These systems are designed to reduce medical errors. Electronic medication administration records can be used by staff to document that residents are taking their medications as prescribed.
Long term care staff and caregivers benefit from mobile Internet devices, which provide access to data from anywhere. Because long term care patients often move between hospital, long term care facility, and home care, data sharing can help improve patient care and lower costs.
Telemedicine can improve healthcare by allowing long term care providers to remotely access highly trained clinicians and specialists. Some advantages are the ability to have patient consultations through videoconferencing, the transmission of diagnostic images, and remotely monitoring vital signs.
There are also advances in assistive devices for lifting and transferring patients, bathing, dressing, and wound care, and improvements in mechanical devices such as beds, walkers, and chairs. In the future we will probably see more robotic devices used in care settings.
One of the difficulties about creating long term care insurance policies is predicting what long term care recipients will need ten or more years into the future. Increasing lifespan plays a part; also medical trends, advances in treatment, and the health issues that come up with people who are living longer and being active longer. Insurers and caregivers must provide appropriate care while managing costs. Creative innovations in technology will help us meet these challenges.
With a 70% chance of needing long term care it is likely you will need it at some point. The three ways to pay for care are:
1. Self insure, pay out of pocket.
2. State pays, Medicaid only allows you to have $2,000 in cash assets.
3. Long term care insurance. Insurance is always cheaper than paying yourself.