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Tipping Point: COVID Has Accelerated the Adoption of Telehealth for Aging in Place

More and more seniors are opting to stay in their homes as they age, a trend called Aging in Place. As our population ages, the number of Americans over 65 and 85 will double and triple, respectively, by 2050.   In anticipation of this senior population exploding, technology has begun adapting to better enable seniors to remain healthy and live safely in their own homes.  Technologies such as virtual healthcare (telehealth), remote monitoring, robot companions/assistants, and more have already been on the rise, but the impact of COVID 19 will quickly accelerate their adoption.

Our senior population is almost twice as likely to develop serious complications than the younger population as they are more likely to have an underlying conditions or multiple underlying conditions.  Given this higher risk, this most vulnerable demographic is, as they should be, being more cautious and not leaving the house for groceries, eating out, or seeing family members for fear of being exposed to the virus.  Most importantly, they have not been going out to doctors’ appointments.  

In the case of seniors who live in senior living facilities, they have been even more isolated and not allowed to go out or receive visitors.  Research from The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, reports that 43% of all  US COVID deaths occurred in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  These close living quarters have increased the spread of the virus, which has caused some to call nursing homes “ground zero” for COVID. 

Technologies that assist our aging population, whether they live in their homes or in senior living facilities, have increased in priority and abundance as seniors look to buy necessities online, remotely connecting to family and friends and ensure they can stay healthy while the country has been sheltering in place.  And the use of some technologies, such as telehealth, has expanded exponentially.

All of this sounds like steady forward progress. Still, we must keep in mind that the most significant barrier to Aging in Place is senior’s access to technology as well as their ability and desire to adopt and learn it.  According to a recent report produced by Aging in Place Tech, access and usage vary significantly by age and device type.

Older Adult Device Adoption through 2019

Device

Age 65+

Age 70+

Source

Cellphone (not smartphone)

39%

 

Pew

Smartphone

53%

62%

40% (age 74-91)

AARP 2019

Pew 2019

Wearable

17% (age 50+)

11%

AARP 2019

Pew 2019

Tablet

49%

40%

AARP 2019

Computer (Desk, Laptop)

71%

73%

AARP 2019

Census 2017

Use the Internet

73%

44-60%

Pew 2019

Home Broadband

59%

N/A

Pew 2019

Smart Speaker

19%

12%

AARP 2019

Pew 2019

Need Help with Setup/Tech Training

73%

N/A

Pew 2017

Very Confident RE: Privacy

12%

13%

AARP 2019

This data was collected in 2019 and reported on in early March of 2020, before the significant rise of COVID.  I am confident we will a sharp increase in both access and adoption in this year’s report, especially in the 65-70-year-old category.

I have witnessed firsthand how the COVID crisis has accelerated technology adoption.  The first time I tried to facetime with my mother, she said, “You don’t look good, and I don’t like this.” Aside from being horrified that my mother told me I didn’t look good, I could understand what a significant change facetime was for her vs. our normal daily calls.   As her shelter in place lasted longer and longer, her need to interact with others overcame her fear and dislike of technology.  Luckily our family is pretty tech-savvy, and now we have her taking exercise classes via Zoom and interacting with her friends and family in a variety of digital ways.  All of this newfound confidence with technology has made her far more receptive to telehealth, remote monitoring, and even digital companionship.

Seniors prefer to stay in their homes as they age to maintain a sense of independence, to enjoy their routines and familiar community, as well as the quality of life.  In many cases, staying in their homes becomes a financial decision as well.  According to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, the average private room in a nursing home runs $8365/per month.  This puts this option out of reach for many seniors.

Technologies such as telehealth, remote monitoring, and robotic companions are enabled by the adoption of wearables, smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  COVID has increased the number of seniors who use the internet, have broadband access and have received some sort of tech training.  This powerful combination will enable seniors to more easily Age in Place, preserve their independence, and have better health outcomes overall.

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