Chronic illnesses can range in severity from troubling to debilitating. But advancements in technology are letting people with health problems like high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage diseases at home while being monitored by health-care professionals.
High-tech sensors, health and activity monitors, touch-screen technology and secure websites are being used to record vitals and physiological data like blood pressure, glucose levels, weight, activity levels and more.
In the health-care industry, this anytime-anywhere access to personal health data is called telemedicine, or e-health. "Having a feed of information that tracks vitals over time is much more comprehensive than the frozen-in-time snapshot assessment obtained during an in-office doctor's visit," Majd Alwan, vice president of the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), a not-for-profit organization that tracks and advocates for the assistive-living technology industry told AgingCare. "Doctors can prescribe appropriate treatments and interventions, as well as detect the early onset of disease."
Chronic condition home monitoring systems have different features, depending on function. Some come with a weight scale, pulse oximeter (a device that indirectly monitors the oxygen saturation of a patient's blood), glucometer and a blood-pressure cuff. The senior wears the device and readings are taken automatically. If readings are in the normal range, the information is logged into personal health records. When readings fall outside of the normal range, alerts are automatically generated and sent wirelessly to health-care professionals, caregivers and others who need to be aware of an elder's health status.
Dr. Alwan says these systems are also useful for self-monitoring because "seniors are more likely to comply with doctor's orders when they can do it in the comfort of their own homes, with minimal effort involved."
However, technology often intimidates seniors. So, to help with adoption rates, the systems are being developed with big bright buttons and intuitive interfaces that require virtually no computer experience.
Pricing varies widely. For example, a basic system from GrandCare starts at $1,995, with a lease option starting at $129 per month. AddedCare Services has more advanced functionality and includes several different sensors and monitors, but has a price tag of $5,995.
As testament to e-health's popularity, the iTunes app store and Google Apps Marketplace offer hundreds of free and paid applications to monitor everything from exercise workouts to health-critical biometric data. Apps such as Emerency CORAnet Widget (available for $1.99 at the Google App Store) let you accesss electronic medical records and basic health information, like blood type, allergies and current medications, through smartphones and mobile devices.
As technology continues to advance, more seniors who previously would have been forced to move into a senior living community will be able to live at home longer.