April 21, 2021

How Has Geriatric Medicine Gone Digital?

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Piece by: JBrevard

The American population is rapidly aging. According to Statista’s latest study, by 2050, adults aged 65 and above will make up over 22% of the country’s total population.

This looming reality poses a great challenge to the American healthcare system as a whole, but even more so to the field of medicine that focuses on the wellbeing of elderly people. 

Thankfully, geriatric medicine has begun making full use of various technologies to continuously improve geriatric care delivery, as well as address the growing demands of the older population. Here are some of the ways geriatric medicine has gone digital to keep up with the changing times.

Four Ways Geriatric Health Has Gone Digital

1. Leveraged telehealth

With the pandemic shutting down hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other medical facilities, most physicians, including geriatricians, were left with no choice but to turn to telehealth. 

Telehealth broadly refers to electronic and telecommunications technologies used to deliver care remotely. Through telehealth, older adults, who are most vulnerable to the crisis in terms of severity and mortality, are able to continuously access care from the comforts of their homes, safe from various risks.

Telehealth has also been very instrumental in combating the unexpected consequence of social distancing — loneliness among seniors. This capability is incredibly important because loneliness has long been noted by studies to have severe, negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of older patients. 

With telehealth and telewellness, geriatric healthcare professionals would be able to employ platforms that foster social interactions and allow seniors to stay connected.

2. Digitized medical education

Hospitals and medical facilities aren’t the only ones that transitioned to the digital space when the pandemic started spreading like wildfire — medical schools did, too. This transition encouraged some institutions to come up with programs that could ensure continuous learning, and at the same time, help the older population cope with the crisis. 

In the Boonshoft School of Medicine, the psychiatry clerkship director partnered with the chair of geriatrics to create a specialized elective called “Psychiatric Considerations of the Older Adult Population.”

Medical students taking this elective are not only tasked to work through online modules on psychological first aid and behavioral activation. These next-generation healthcare providers were also paired with isolated older adults in the community.

Like most medical students, future geriatric nurses, too, have had to shift to a digital learning environment over the past year. Today’s online RN to BSN programs have coursework that can be done 100% remotely, equipping nurses with the skills necessary to assess patient health and direct nursing teams. 

Curricula are also constantly updated with industry trends and needs in order to help them gain the competencies that will enable them to thrive in institutions that make full use of digital tools and telehealth. Plus, it helps nurses better support geriatric doctors, who unfortunately, are set to be outnumbered by patients in the coming years.

These developments will definitely have a profound impact on the delivery of elderly care because it guarantees that the next generation of geriatric medicine professionals is able to combine technology with traditional geriatrics.

3. Utilized IoT and wearables

Older adults often require constant assistance, intervention, and support. That’s because most of the ailments related to old age, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, frailty, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular disease, have to be regularly monitored. In addition to this, these health issues can also get in the way of seniors' day-to-day activities. 

The need for constant attention and care often causes a considerable financial and human burden on older patients and their caregivers. This is where wearables, IoT technologies, and other remote care options can be of great help.

With various sensors and functions, wearables can supply seniors with immediate access to daily care or emergency assistance. These innovations can also promote proactive care by keeping tabs on relevant health data from older adults who wear them. 

The collected data can then be used by caregivers, families, and healthcare providers to gain deeper insights, identify trends, and come up with proactive care options. Most importantly, wearables can also help older individuals regain some sense of independence.

Certain wearables can be connected to other devices to give seniors greater control over their environment. For instance, with a flick of the wrist or a single tap, older adults can operate lights, locks, thermostats, and appliances. 

Smart home IoT systems can also enable physicians to monitor their patient’s mobility and examine how they interact with their environment. With their ability to detect falls, IoT devices can help many seniors stay safely and independently in their homes.

4. Tackled loneliness with the help of robots

Pandemic or not, loneliness has always been a big issue for seniors. As the world grows more and more reliant on all things digital, older adults with limited digital literacy are finding it even harder to participate in society. 

This is worrying because, as mentioned, loneliness can undermine the overall wellbeing of seniors. To help address this issue, experts from all around the world are turning to robotic technology to help seniors live better lives.

Here in the US, there are robots like Stevie that can entertain seniors in retirement homes through silly dance moves and video-conferencing capabilities. 

Doll-like therapy robots that can comfort and calm agitated and disoriented older patients are also in existence. Robots made to look like cute and furry animals are also keeping older adults company and are uplifting their mood.

A recent pilot program conducted by Ageless Innovation noted how 70% of the seniors who were asked to live with robotic pets reported a decrease in feelings of isolation and loneliness. Without a doubt, robots can be used to offer social and emotional support to seniors who are living alone, and future developments hold a lot of promise, too.

The Digitalization of Geriatric Medicine Can Help Save Lives 

In today’s digital world using technology to stay healthy is easier than ever before. Whether it is through live streaming or communicating with your doctor remotely, technology has truly changed how we look after ourselves and those we love.

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