About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors?
Essay response by Patrick Bartley
More seniors than ever are choosing to live and receive care in the comfort of their own home as opposed to a nursing home or other care facility. In-home care makes this possible by providing seniors with a caregiving professional to assist with day-to-day tasks. However, there are disadvantages to in-home care, most notably the cost of a professional caregiver and that caregivers availability. As a computer science major I believe advances in technology will be able to improve in-home care, providing people with more freedom and accessibility in their living situations.
Technology has the potential to fill gaps in home care, providing seniors with surveillance and increased accessibility to their surroundings when a caregiver is unavailable. This could decrease the cost of care by mitigating the need for a full time caregiver, and at the same time give the senior more freedom; empowering them to have more control over their lives by making day-to-day tasks more manageable. In-home care practices have already successfully integrated many different forms of technology, most notably remote monitoring, allowing clinicians to monitor a patient’s vital signs and symptoms from home without intervention. and video conferencing brings a caregiver into the home without the need for traveling. Two emerging technologies have the potential to be of amazing benefit to those who receive in-home care, these are smart home technology and robotic caregivers.
Smart home technology involves having electronic devices that are interconnected along a digital network, allowing them to communicate with each other as well as with a human, through an interface such as a tablet or smartphone. Adaptation of smart home technology has been steadily increasing since the boom in popularity of mobile devices. Most applications involve lighting, thermostat regulation, video monitoring and security, all accessible and adjustable through a mobile device. This technology has the potential to be tremendously beneficial to people receiving in-home care. A smart home could remind you to take your medications, or turn off a faucet or stove that was accidentally left running. It could monitor vital signs and eating habits, providing valuable information to healthcare professionals. It could use sensors to detect a fall, and immediately contact emergency personnel. People with limited mobility would be in complete control of their surroundings, and video monitoring would allow caregivers or family members who might otherwise be unavailable in person to check in or socialize digitally. A lot of this technology already exists in some shape or form, the value of the smart home is bringing it all together in a way that’s seamless and intuitive for an elderly or disabled person to use, either using voice command or possibly a simple touch interface.
In-home care robotics is another rapidly advancing technology that offers many benefits. Working in conjunction with a system such as a smart home, robots could perform tasks such as dispensing medication, preparing food, doing laundry and assisting with mobility. Like smart home technology, robotic caregiving is still in it’s early stages of development, but has the potential to be a valuable complement to a human caregiver, and may even be able to perform some functions better than a human counterpart. While a robot may never be able to empathize with a patient on the same emotional level as a human, 24 hour care can be both mentally and physically exhausting on the part of a human caregiver. Robots, however, never get tired or frustrated, they are always available in case of a crisis, and as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, robots will also be able to offer companionship to a senior. It may seem insensitive to consider a robot a companion, especially in place of a human, but not every senior lives in an ideal situation where they have friends and family constantly supporting them. The simple presence of a robot could make a big difference for a senior who spends most of their time alone.
Perfecting these types of technologies is still a long way off, and there are many considerations to be made about their use, both moral and ethical. but used correctly as a supplement and not a replacement to human caregivers and healthcare professionals, technology has the potential to drastically improve the lives of those receiving in-home care, giving them more freedom and confidence to live in the comfort of their own home.
Patrick is seeking a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Maine, .