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Technology key to keeping Canadian seniors healthy at home

November 13, 2018

It’s no secret that Canada has an aging population. Based on the 2016 Census from Statistics Canada, seniors (age 65+) now outnumber children in this country . In addition, the average life expectancy for Canadian men has risen to age 79, and to 83 years for women . This rise is mainly due to advances in chronic disease management, and to greater awareness and information on healthy living through every phase of life.

As a country, how can we ensure seniors stay healthy and active well past retirement age? Today, the answer may lie in the many exciting technological innovations available to help seniors take care of their health, while aging with dignity in the comfort of their own homes, for as long as possible.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is certainly on board with this idea, and has long been a proponent of addressing the major challenges confronting seniors care in Canada. Through its subsidiary Joule, the CMA provides support for innovation and celebrates the adoption of innovative technologies and services in support of Canadian physicians.

In August, the CMA also held its first-ever Health Summit in Winnipeg to spark a national conversation about the role of technology in delivering better health outcomes for all Canadians. As part of the Summit, a number of technology companies, medical entrepreneurs, and researchers joined forces to present the Connected Senior Home of the Future.

Developed by Innovative Housing Alternatives (IHA) Canada and its technology partners (including TELUS Health) to illustrate IHA’s vision of connected seniors’ communities, this model space was designed to resemble a typical family home, with a distinct living room, bedroom, and office area. Each zone spotlighted different technology solutions designed specifically so seniors can easily monitor their chronic medical conditions from any location in their home, while keeping their healthcare team a reassuring telephone or video call away.

Empowerment through connection

In the living room, TELUS Health presented its Home Health Monitoring (HHM) solution. The premise is simple: every day, seniors use the provided medical devices to take their basic vital signs, such as blood pressure or pulse oxygen levels. They enter the information into a tablet, where it is shared with the patient’s care team. If any issues or abnormalities crop up, the team can then contact the patient to obtain more information, discuss next steps, or make a referral for an in-person appointment.

This solution has generated very promising results. In a pilot project in BC’s Island Health region, seniors using HHM reported a lower number of emergency visits and hospital admissions, as well as a very high (92% to 99%) satisfaction rating . Another study from TEC4HOME showed that overall quality of life increased 101% .

Users participating in these studies also shared some very positive feedback:

  • “The monitoring system makes you feel supported and like you have a team behind you. You don’t feel abandoned. They help you with your condition and monitor you on a daily basis.”
  • “I had some health concerns this morning, and before I knew it my nurse was calling me and talked me through it. I feel much better already.”
  • “I sure like this equipment. By seeing the readings, I am able to tell how I’m doing each day and feel confident in managing my health.”

Monitoring mobility and memory

For seniors living with dementia or mobility issues, it can be difficult and costly to remain safely at home. That’s why AGE-WELL, a Canadian research institute, has partnered with universities, industry, and the health sector to develop sensors and smart home-type devices to continuously monitor seniors in their homes, and alert caregivers and clinicians immediately in case of falls or accidents.

At the CMA Summit, AGE-WELL presented a range of such solutions, including a pressure mat placed under the patient’s mattress that looks for instability when the patient moves from a sitting to a standing position. A new type of pressure-sensitive floor can continuously monitor the senior’s balance and walking stride, alerting the care team and emergency services in the case of a fall (a leading cause of injury to seniors). Finally, AGE-WELL is also working on placing a series of sensors around the home to help redirect dementia patients and reduce the risk of wandering, a serious concern for patients, their doctors, and their caregivers.

The connected Campus of Care model

These innovative solutions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring senior Canadians stay healthy at home. While individual solutions and devices can be helpful to seniors dealing with a specific illness or condition, IHA Canada’s Bill Kerr has taken technology and senior health one step further. Kerr and his company are promoting a new model of independent living for seniors: the Campus of Care.

This is a new approach to community living for seniors. Each family home within the campus would incorporate multiple sensors, solutions, and devices in every room, opening the door to round-the-clock health monitoring and security. The campuses would also include access to a full spectrum of care, including medical specialists, physiotherapists, dental hygienists and more, all available either in-person or through a connected device like a tablet.

“The only way to really change things is to provide a total solution. Companies like TELUS Health, and research institutes like the Bruyère Institute through AGE-WELL, will play an extremely important role in what we do,” Kerr stressed. “However, we need to look at how seniors actually live, where they live, how we deliver care, how we monitor them, how we provide safety and security. How do we make them part of a community, one that allows them not only to live, but to thrive?”

One thing is clear: many innovative minds are currently at work to answer these questions, with the ultimate goal of allowing the aging Canadian population to age comfortably and securely at home as long as possible.

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