Home Healthcare Provider Sees Great Promise in Alexa Pilot
A California-based home healthcare provider Libertana reports it is seeing positive results just eight weeks into its pilot with Amazon’s Alexa. Libertana partnered with Boston-based startup Orbita to custom-design a new Alexa “skill” to assist its home healthcare workers. While the pilot currently uses only the Echo, Orbita’s tools are “platform agnostic,” which means they can also be adapted for other voice-activated home assistants like Google Home.
Using Libertana’s custom Alexa skill, seniors can verbally report medical data such as weight, blood pressure or blood sugar levels, listen to medication and exercise reminders, call for help from a caregiver, coordinate transportation and learn about their scheduled social and recreational activities.
…Jonathan Istrin, executive director at Libertana, [told] Home Health Care News, “We like it. We’re very excited about it. It allows my staff to see more clients… and the clients are happier.”
Libertana reports that utilizing Alexa provides both clinical and operational benefit.
One big [clinical] perk that the custom Alexa skill offers is that it’s able to cut down on loneliness, which is a problem for some seniors who age at home. Though it’s just a box, seniors come to see their Amazon Echo as a companion, Harvey Bogarat, vice president of business development for Libertana, tells HHCN.
For example, Alexa might offer kind words on a senior’s birthday, or tell them that they’re loved by their family.
“Loneliness is a huge factor in people’s longevity and mental health and physical wellbeing,” Bogarat says.
The effects of loneliness on seniors are well-documented. One recent study highlighted by the Washington Post suggests that seniors who say they’re lonely also reported 38.5% worse symptoms than their less lonely peers.
[Operationally, the big] advantage lies in eliminating redundancy for caregivers and improving productivity. Before the Alexa skill, Libertana’s caregivers would have to manually record all of the information that Alexa does, then input that information into an electronic medical record (EMR).
With voice assistance software, half of that job is done automatically, meaning caregivers can spend more time getting to know their clients on a personal level.
“Instead of calling and doing a download with their respective clients, they can have more of a social relationship with them,” Bogarat says.
Though the pilot is just a few weeks old, Libertana already has more features in the works and a growing wish list.
Soon, Libertana will unveil a feature that lets clients’ families see their daily medical reports remotely.
….One goal for future development of the skill is to program Alexa to input notes into the EMR directly. Another feature on Libertana’s wish list is better two-way communication functionality, like what you’d find with a traditional personal emergency response system (PERS) device such as Life Alert.
Orbiter co-founder and president Nathan Treloar sees a lot of potential in the home healthcare and both residential and assisted living applications.
[He told Home Health Care News that] “Libertana is kind of an early adopter in this space,” [but]…. more partnerships with senior-focused providers and agencies could be on the way—including home health care agencies.
“We’ve been a little shy going after the home care market because it’s so fragmented,” Treloar says. “But that’s about to change.”
Public Transportation Offers Challenges for Older Adults
Any New York City commuter will tell you that the U.S. public transit system has issues. For older adults, those challenges can make getting around inaccessible, or even dangerous, reports CityLab:
Protected streets, denser neighborhoods, and accessible medical care make urban life safer and healthier for everyone—especially the 65-and-up crowd, one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of Americans will be 65 or older, up 6 percent points from 2015.
A new report by TransitCenter makes the case that healthy aging hinges on better mass transportation.
Most transit systems, especially those built prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, don’t respond adequately to these limitations. Buses that lack accessible seating, stations without shade or benches, and connections that require crossing dangerous roads discourage elderly users. So do, for example, the 362 out of 472 subway stations in New York City that aren’t accessible to wheelchair users, as the TransitCenter report notes.
Without access to transportation, seniors may miss medical appointments or experience growing social isolation. Some older adults may take matters into their own hands and drive themselves, even if operating a car has become unsafe for them. Companies like Lyft and Uber are pairing with medical providers to get patients to their appointments, but there isn’t a comprehensive solution yet:
Cities and start-ups haven’t cracked the code of on-demand microtransit yet, but when they do, the promise is huge: multi-passenger shuttle buses that can create their own routes, responding to the demands of a smartphone-wielding population, could fill first-last-mile gaps between home, work, and transit, supplement maxed-out subway lines, or replace inefficient fixed-route bus lines that serve small numbers of riders.
Microtransit could be a game-changer for seniors savvy with smartphones, as a recent Mobility Lab survey in Arlington, Virginiaindicates. And before readers cry privatization, public agencies in Austin, Kansas City, and Los Angeles have tried, or are experimenting with, contracting microtransit start-ups under their own umbrella—this seems to be the wave of the future.
Whether private or public transit, making it easier to get around U.S cities will be a welcome change for all.
Lyft Partners with Tech Companies for Patient Transportation
Patients’ missed appointments cost the health system $150 billion a year. Now state governments are partnering with Lyft to provide patients with non-emergency transportation:
Dan Trigub of Lyft Healthcare Partnerships explained: “We work with large national caregiver agencies to small mom-and-pop operators. Each of our customers has different needs, but fundamentally they all see that transportation is such a key barrier to effective health care delivery and that a solution such as Lyft can drastically improve the lives of their caregivers, patients, employees and all those they serve.
At the core of what we look to do is improve the lives of people with the world's best transportation and especially for our elder population. We look to increase the independence of our elders and reduce isolation, and the feedback we have received is that the service is doing just that.”
Here are the companies Lyft has partnered with:
Located in California and part of Anthem Inc, CareMore provides an integrated care system with sophisticated care coordination throughout its services in the US. Its health system has been linked with Lyft since 2016, and enable vehicles to sent out to patients who need to attend non-emergency appointments through a mobile and web platform. It has reduced transportation wait times by up to 30%, with a wait time of nine minutes, according to a past press release.
2. Hitch Health
To support patients in being able to attend medical appointments within Minneapolis, Upstream Health Innovations (part of Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC)), has partnered with Hitch Health, which is linked to Lyft’s enterprise application programming interface. Similarly, to many taxi companies, Lyft will send an automatic confirmation SMS message once a lift has been booked, reducing waiting times and producing real-time insights.
3. Stride Health
Working alongside Stride Health, Lyft and Uber have helped drivers find significant coverage, and deliver cost savings in monitoring the mileage the driver undertakes.
Similarly to Hitch, LogistiCare “helps state governments and managed care organisations run transportation and integrated health care programs.” Utilising Lyft’s enterprise application programming interface, the company helps patients access vital healthcare services.
5. The Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organisation (GBUACO)
By partnering with Lyft, the Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organization (GBUACO) developed a pilot programme for its most regular patients in order to drive down costs and provide increase coordinated care.
6. American Medical Response (AMR)
This year, Lyft has partnered with American Medical Response (AMR) who is currently the largest provider of medical transportation across the US, with services in 40 states and over 25,000 AMR paramedics and health professionals across the country. It has provided a significant opportunity for Lyft to deliver non-emergency medical transportation services for patients who need a ride from the hospital to their home or to outpatient procedures.
“Our health plan and health system partners rely upon AMR and our Access2Care subsidiaryto effectively manage the non-emergency transportation needs of their members. This partnership with Lyft provides an additional transport option for patients who require transportation, but do not need the services of an ambulance or other higher level of care,” said Sven Johnson, CEO of Managed Transportation and Integrated Solutions at AMR.
Through this partnership, AMR hospital and health plan clients can participate in “One Call” services which allow the hospital, clinic or health plan to request and pay for rides for patients who do not have access to other transportation – ultimately improving outcomes and lowering costs. The Lyft rideshare services are a fraction of the cost of traditional taxis, and Lyft’s platform allows hospitals and others complete visibility into transport spend, removing the risk of abuse associated with poorly tracked paper vouchers.
7. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
Made up of 36 independent and locally operated companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield has also partnered with Lyft, to reduce transportation costs to enable patients who are unable to access traditional transportation services to attend medical appointments. With a database of over 100 million, the partnership will further cement Lyft’s services across the US and help improve the quality of life for patients.
In a press release, Dr Trent Haywood, BCBSA chief medical officer and president of the BCBS Institute has stated, “Many Americans live in areas where medical care is beyond the reach of walking, biking or public transportation. As a result, they struggle to access critical health care services, even when they have health insurance.” The partnership will therefore capture and provide support to these patients who are without access.
8. The National Medtrans Network
Situated in New York City, Lyft’s partnership with the National Medtrans Network, providing over 2,000 rides a week, reducing waiting times and missed appointments for patients across the city.
Nutrition App Bitesnap Can Assess Food from Photos Using AI and Machine Learning
Calorie-tracking apps have been around a long time, but new comer Bitesnap represents a new generation of nutrition apps.
In order to help [consumers] make smarter decisions about what [they’re] putting in [their] body, there's a new app in town that leverages artificial intelligence. Meet Bitesnap from Bite AI, which uses machine learning to determine what food items are in your latest food photo, and subsequently tells you how many calories you're consuming.
Not only does Bitesnap identify the foot item on your plate, it also does some pretty impressive work as far as figuring out how much of it is actually there. And it'll [present] more than just caloric data…[including] a pie chart of [the user’s] carbohydrate, protein, and fat consumption. [The app can also] set (or adjust)…targets to help [someone] achieve [their] fitness goals.
For users who would like a more complete view of their nutrition and calorie intake, the app allows users to enter weight and height, and it calculates BMI.
[Entering this basic data] can actually help Bitesnap determine what [a person’s] ideal food intake ought to be. The app can even remind [the user] when to eat…
Currently, the app is available on both the iOS App Store and Google Play, though it doesn't look as though integrations with wearables are yet available. That said, it's still relatively new, so these updates could be coming soon. The app itself is free, and the reviews thus far have been quite positive. So if you're looking for a way to make good on your health-related New Year's resolutions, this app just may be able to help.
Bitesnap execs: we look forward to hearing more about your 50+ strategy in the future!
4 Veterans of FinTech “Company Building” Launch Lab for Digital Health Startups
The four founders of the new Berlin-based Heartbeat Labs aim to build “pioneering healthtech companies,” according to its website.
[The] new company builder by HitFox Group…will launch up to five digital startups a year.
It will back three to five startups working on health tech solutions with seed funding between €500,000 and €5 million. It will launch its first company by the end of August.
Heartbeat Labs was founded by Jan Beckers, Hendrik Krawinkel, and Eckhardt Weber, who previously founded the fintech company builder FinLeap, which raised €39 million earlier this week.
“While medical therapies are advancing steadily, not enough progress has been made in making healthcare more data-driven, efficient and affordable,” said Jan Beckers, managing director, on the decision to establish the new company builder.
“We look forward to leveraging our expertise to support the digitization of existing healthcare players and to bringing new business models to this market.”
Eckhardt also believes this is the right moment to jump into the digital health sector in Europe.
The European digital health sector is starting to catch up with the US, said Eckhardt. “We believe this is the right time to invest in healthcare: Changing regulations in Europe is opening up the markets. Technological capabilities are developing quickly,” he said.
Heartbeat Labs will assist startups on a business and product development level and help them prepare for entering what is a heavily regulated market. The program is supported by a board of medical experts.
5 New Digital Health Tools for Better Health and Nutrition
Medical Futurist recently surveyed five digital devices aimed at helping us choose better foods and consume them more smartly.
#1: Smart Utensils
The two utensils here address very different difficulties: one is a habit and one is a symptom of a number of neurological or other motor disorders.
The HAPIfork, powered by Slow Control, is an electronic fork that helps [a person] monitor and track [their] eating habits. It also alerts [the user] with the help of indicator lights and gentle vibrations when you are eating too fast.
There are many people out there with Essential Tremor, Parkinson’s Disease, or other motion disorders [who struggle with controlling a utensil]. Designed by Lift Labs which was acquired by Google Life Sciences, Liftware is a stabilizing handle and a selection of attachments that include a soup spoon, everyday spoon, and fork.
#2: Food scanners
For a number of reasons, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in where their food came from and what’s in it. This functionality can be useful to those suffering from allergies or food sensitivities or simply for those becoming more conscious of the ecological and geopolitical implications of our food system.
Canadian TellSpec has developed a hand–held food scanner that can inform users about specific ingredients and macronutrients. The company brings together spectroscopy and a unique mathematical algorithm in a revolutionary system that can analyze the chemical composition of food.
The Israeli company SCiO uses a technology similar to TellSpec’s but is designed to identify the molecular content of foods, medicines, and even plants. The company says that in milliseconds the ingredients and molecular make–up of the foodstuff will appear on the user’s smartphone. However, their promises have yet to be fulfilled, as the scanner they introduced on the market does not exactly deliver what the demo did.
The Nima gluten-sensor (already on the market!) was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2015. It is a portable, nicely designed gadget. The Nima is able to tell you from a small food sample within two minutes, whether the food on your plate contains gluten. The firm also aims to apply its technology to detect other food allergens, including peanuts and dairy. They plan to introduce their peanut sensor in fall 2017.
Nutrigenomics, says Medical Futurist, is a “brand-new cross-field combining genetics and nutrition science.”
The basic idea behind nutrigenomics is that our genome reveals valuable information about our organism’s needs, which we should map out and utilize in order to lead a long and healthy life. After having your DNA sequenced (perhaps already at home!), a smart app could let you know which food you should eat and what you should avoid at all cost. As we are all genetically different, our diet should be personalized.
For example, the California-based start-up, Habit, plans to use genetic markers to identify the ideal meal for each of its customers and send that meal directly to their doors. You only need to send back their required blood sample kit, do their so-called “metabolic challenge” and provide a series of body metrics like height, weight, and waist circumference as well as lifestyle habits like how often a person walks, runs, or exercises. All of this analysis leads to a personalized meal plan of foods that works best for the user’s body.
#4: Calorie counters
For a modern digital twist on an old practice of counting calories, consumers have a lot of choices.
For example, [early success stories were] Fitbit and the Fitbit Surge [but they have now added] Fitbit Charge 2 as [their best product for] calorie counting. ...[Consumers] can [also] choose from many apps whose goal is to help you log your meals, [for example], MyFitnessPal, Lifesum, Calorie Counter Pro, HAPIcoach or Noom Coach.
My favorites are MyFitnessPal and HAPIcoach. Both are great for diet management and calorie counting. MyFitnessPal has over 5 million food items in its database and it is super easy to log what kind of food or drink you had during the day. Moreover, the counter can be synced with various health apps, fitness bands or smart scales. With HAPIcoach, you can take a photo of your meals for 5 consecutive days; then send them back to a real nutritionist, who will give you advice on how to adjust your diet to the ideal. It’s a great way to acquire your very own, personalized diet.
#5: Food Chatbots
Chatbots for food are the quickly popping up, from long-time grocers as well as start-ups.
In 2016, Whole Foods announced the launch of their very own chatbot developed by Conversable. It lets customers browse through the store find products, and then, with a few taps in a Facebook Messenger chatbot, find recipes for an upcoming meal. So, [a person can] just select a tomato emoji, and the chatbot will find [them] great recipes for spaghetti bolognese for example. The Food Network TV Channel launched a similar chatbot: [one] can search for various recipes by ingredient, meal type, your favorite chef or show.
Before You Go in Search of Funding, Make Sure You Avoid These Three Red Flags
Mark Gilbert, founder and CEO of MBS Accounting Technology & Advisory, recently contributed a post to MedCity News on some of the pitfalls start-ups fall into which “send investors running”.
Many health tech startups blame the economy when fundraising efforts go awry. Yet more often than not their failed fundraising boils down to the basics of business. These digital health entrepreneurs are overlooking areas of their business that investors want to scrutinize.
Investors are scared away when the books are a mess, even when a startup has a unique idea. As a result, many startups never get their ideas discovered or funded. Today’s private investors, seed funders and angel investors – want more detailed reporting. They’re more astute to burn rates and detailed projection models, relying less on tax statements.
Aside from a good business idea, says Gilbert, investors want to see solid financials and business practices.
Red Flag #1: Using Excel as an accounting system
My company works with many startups and we continually see their founders using Excel for accounting. Running financials on an Excel document is a tedious practice, inadvertently leading to basic human error; just one incorrect manual input leads to the distortion of numbers that are important in company decision-making.
Using error-prone spreadsheets communicates the wrong message to investors. This practice is viewed as unprofessional, especially since it is not compatible with scaling a business. When the company scales, founders will spend too much time focusing on manually updating and linking spreadsheets.
As the company’s Excel accounting system becomes more complex over time, this knowledge is not easily shared with new employees, let alone investors. It is increasingly hard to understand how the system of spreadsheets fits together.
There is a quick fix — invest in a professional accounting interface system. Programs like QuickBooks Online and Xero will prepare any health tech startup from day one. An accounting system is more efficient and allows a startup to scale more quickly.
Red Flag #2: No due diligence reporting
Here is why you need that accounting interface. It will help you quickly generate reports. As soon as a pitch is made to investors, they will want the startup to show due diligence. This validates that a startup has an organized business model and is ready for capital investment.
The best way for a startup to show due diligence is with financial data, yet most startups do not have anything on hand other than bank statements and spreadsheets. Investors want to see a bottom-up financial forecast and a detailed analysis of cash flows to back up projections.
Potential investors will want to see departmentalized sales reports, enhanced expense reports and salary reports. An operating expense plan based on actual numbers is not only more concrete but also more realistic, two traits investors are looking for. These documents will show investors that the startup has a real understanding of its cash flow, revenue and variable expense projections.
Red Flag #3: No competitive research
Most startups are internally-focused and do not check industry comparisons before heading to investors. A startup will fail to raise money if it does not have as much knowledge of main competitors as it does of itself. Albeit, a startup with a new concept may not likely have the advantage of competitive research but a disruptive startup without peer benchmarking is a red flag
All investors will do an industry comparison. They will analyze all competing firms on similar revenue lines and compare the projections of their potential investment to existing companies. Investors will check to see what competitors are paying for supplies; if a startup is off the charts on variable expenses compared to competitors, it will need to come into the meeting with an explanation.
For this reason, startups are expected to know what industry comparisons will show on items like sales, revenues and expenses. This information is readily available with software like Qvinci.
Disorderly books cause potential investors to lock up their wallets and throw away the key. It’s not just because it looks unprofessional; it’s because every piece of a business is entwined with finances. All health tech startups can better prepare themselves right now for successful fundraising by instituting professional accounting and competitive research.
Two Scenarios for FDA’s New Approach to Digital Health
In a guest post for MedCity News, Leland Brewster of health innovation services company Healthbox considers two possible ways the FDA’s new tack on digital health might shake out.
In June, the Food and Drug Administration announced an initiative to ramp up regulations in the digital health space. The announcement comes on the heels of the 21st Century Cures Act which, among several proposals, starts to outline the role of FDA in overseeing digital health solutions.
While the recent report remains vague regarding specific regulations, the team at Healthbox has outlined two possible regulatory scenarios and the potential implications of each on digital health solutions:
Scenario 1: FDA opts for a light touch and modest regulatory barriers
In this scenario, FDA may evaluate whether solutions provide enough functionality (for instance, can I use it?) and basic value (does it help me?) while preventing patient harm (would a doctor recommend it?).
Clearing this hurdle would be similar to a newly developed iPhone app being approved for sale in the App Store. We don’t think this scenario would have a particularly significant impact, as most subpar solutions already lack market traction and fail without reaching a major healthcare stakeholder be it provider, payor, investor, and others.
If anything, this modest regulation might actually benefit patients who interact with direct-to-consumer digital health solutions by weeding out deficient products with inappropriate or even harmful content.
Scenario 2: FDA requires a high degree of clinical validation and outcomes
Alternatively, FDA could choose to significantly up the standards by requiring solutions to prove their value — their ability to decrease mortality, improve patients’ quality of life and other outcomes — before being allowed to be sold.
A move like this would have a big impact on the market. Perhaps most notably, the time-to-market and costs to launch digital health solutions would sharply increase as companies are forced to navigate the approval process. Remember that FDA has historically been overwhelmed with the volume of digital health apps for review.
While this raises the bar for companies, an official government stamp-of-approval may increase the likelihood and speed with which payors and providers adopt these solutions once they’re actually available. As a case study, leaders in the digital therapeutics space such as Omada Health and Pear Therapeutics have proactively worked to clinically prove the value of their products, despite the added costs, and appear to be reaping the benefits.
If the FDA opts for Scenario 2, says Leland, it will inevitably stifle investment in digital health startups and therefore the pace of innovation. However, there are moves the FDA could make to compensate, at least partially, for this slow-down. For example:
--Instituting government-sponsored funding, much as the NIH does for drug discovery research. It would probably be comparatively less expensive but the paradigm would remain the same. This would enable digital health technology companies to skip early stage venture investors and apply for grant funding instead.
--Increasing the value of the agency’s approval by tying it to CMS reimbursement. Unlike 510(k) clearance for medical devices or CLIA certification for diagnostic laboratory tests that do not guarantee reimbursement, this approach could help the high-quality vendors that receive regulatory approval to more easily grow and succeed.
No one yet knows which approach the FDA will take to regulating the explosion of digital health products, particularly all the software, but “all industry stakeholders are watching closely,” says Leland. And he also has a request for the agency, should they take the higher regulatory path.
Should they opt for more significant regulation of digital health, we urge the agency to consider simultaneously rolling out programs to offset the decline in available early-stage venture capital that could result with a higher regulatory bar.
Whether this takes the form of expanded grant funding, a public investment vehicle, or something else altogether would depend on the appetite of the current administration. Regardless, the goal should be to continue driving forward the innovation engine that is digital health rather than discouraging growth with overly burdensome regulations.
StartUp Health Takes an Inside Look at Velóce’s New Smartphone-Activated Pill
Veloce’s SmartTabs are not on the market yet. In fact, the company is still “in the process” of raising a $2 million seed round to finish developing the prototype and begin animal trials. But where they are looking to take medication management could revolutionize not just adherence but also absorption rates and effectiveness data, bringing us ever closer to personalized medicine.
A digital health entrepreneur and pharmaceutical industry veteran, [Robert Niichel, CEO of Velóce Digital], believes that many of [our medication] efficacy and adherence problems can be attributed to how drugs are delivered. Most medications are contained within capsules or tablets, which are ingested by a patient, and enter their bloodstream after being dissolved in their digestive system. According to Niichel, it’s an inefficient method of drug delivery that’s difficult — if not impossible — for clinicians to monitor.
In early 2016, Niichel launched Velóce Digital, a smart-pill startup based in Denver, Colorado, to make drug delivery systems more efficient.... Consisting of a smart polymer shell, the SmartTab capsule contains a sensor that constantly monitors its location and environment. The capsule sends this data to the SmartTab platform, which can be accessed from a smartphone or computer.
“SmartTab is a wireless drug delivery system,” Niichel said. “When consumers ingest one of our tablets, its contents remain protected until it’s remotely triggered to release them by a smartphone, smartwatch, or even a computer in a clinical setting.”
Although the team at Velóce imagines the pills gaining traction first in clinical settings, the goal is for the SmartTabs to be part of home medications regimens as well.
“As we move some of these drug delivery systems away from a medical setting and into the home,” [said Niichel,] “millions of dollars will be saved each year because we’ll be reducing visits to the doctor’s office.”
The company received its first patent in February of this year and has more on the way.
Currently in its product’s prototype stage, Velóce Digital is working to reduce the size of the SmartTab capsule, increase the sensitivity of its sensors, and enhance the capabilities of its platform...When SmartTab is ready to go to market, Niichel plans to license the platform to large pharmaceutical companies like Merck as well as major technology companies like IBM.
“Someday soon, most ingestible capsules will have some type of electronic system to collect data and release their active ingredients,” said Niichel. “This will lead to more timely decision-making and the optimization of drug delivery.”
Though still an early stage startup, Velóce Digital has attracted several major partners. The company was admitted into StartUp Health last year, and joined Catalyst HTI, a Denver-based industry integrator, earlier this year.
Medication management remains one of the hottest areas in health tech for the 50+ marketplace, and for many areas of population health. This is undoubtedly due to the enormous cost savings potential.
In 2012, a team of researchers performed a comprehensive review of studies on medication non-adherence, a problem that occurs when patients do not take medication as prescribed. They found that medication non-adherence occurred in 20–30% of all cases, costing the U.S. healthcare system hundreds of billions of dollars and causing 125,000 deaths [and costing $300 billion] each year.
3 Ways the Tech Revolution is Gaining Traction with Seniors and Caregivers
"Aging-in-place technology is helping to improve the aging experience for seniors and family caregivers," say Sally Abrahms, in a new piece written for Kiplinger's Retirement Report.
Whether already in use or still being tested, aging-in-place technology is improving the aging experience for seniors and family caregivers. Part of the reason: the development of artificial intelligence, or AI, and "big data." With AI, devices can react like humans after assessing a situation and learning someone's habits. Wearable gadgets—think Fitbit on steroids—can collect and analyze health data, while medical mini-machines monitor chronic conditions and customize treatment.
"Technology is a game-changer, improving older adults' independence, engagement and health and reducing their social isolation," says David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging at the University of California, Berkeley. "Technologies we haven't even thought of today will be on the market in the next few years."
Adoption rates among caregivers are still relatively low, but there are several signs indicating we are nearing a tipping point when all that will change.
In a 2015 AARP survey, fewer than 10% of family caregivers said they use, or have used, technology for caregiving, but 71% said they were interested.
In the coming years, aging tech is likely to follow the pattern of smartphones, which gained traction in people's lives relatively quickly. Stand-alone devices are getting smaller, and apps are increasingly available for smartphones and tablets. Plus, aging technology is getting faster, cheaper and easier to use.
Abrahms breaks down the tech advances for seniors and caregivers into three main trends.
Although it began as a teen gaming phenomenon, virtual reality, or VR, is maturing into a technology for older adults. While still in its infancy, VR for seniors is gaining fans among physicians, long-term-care staff, researchers, physical therapists and family members.
For older adults with mobility issues or cabin fever, VR breaks up day-to-day monotony and loneliness, letting seniors "travel"—sky diving or swimming with whales, anyone?—without leaving home.
But VR offers more than just a good time. It's being studied as a way to reduce physical pain, opioid use, anxiety, stress and social isolation, and to improve mood.
Companies that get a special shout out from Abrahms for targeting this VR market for seniors include: Rendever, Aloha VR, Samsung Electronics America
Although Amazon Echo's virtual assistant Alexa clearly leads the smart home pack, Google, Apple are Android have also come out with their own versions and are angling for market share. And those are just the big names. Startups are making their play as well.
These devices are multiplying. A 2016 report from market research company Tractica predicts that 100 million consumer robots will ship between 2015 and 2020—including bots that vacuum and mow the lawn.
Robots are not limited to stationary personal assistants, however. They can be like a pet, or provide a vital medical purpose like an exoskelton.
Some startups that Abrahms notes are paying attention to the specific need of the senior market include:
Virtual Assistants: Jibo and ELLI Q
Robotic pets: Front Porch and Hasbro's Joy for All Companion Pets
Rehabilitative / mobility robots: ReWalk Robotics
Digital Health Tech
Digital health technology is on the verge of exploding and the senior market is no exception to this, despite the conventional wisdom that this demographic is tech-resistant. This category is, as our regular readers know, a regular focus of ours at The Longevity Network. It also encompasses a staggering array of products and services.
"Connected" health technology is a godsend for people who want to grow old in their homes and retain their independence. According to an industry report by MarketResearch.com, the market for connected smart sensors is expected to reach $117 billion by 2020. Health tech lets users get help in an emergency with mobile medic alert–like personal emergency response systems [PERS]; track health and habits via wearable devices that gather biometric cardiac, respiratory, sleep and activity data; and monitor chronic conditions. It also lets patients speak with doctors remotely in real time (known as telemedicine), partake in virtual rehab, anticipate falls and manage medication.
Through GPS, sensors, chips, cameras, voice activation, cellular connectivity and smartphone monitoring apps, technology provides a way to share information and offers peace of mind to family caregivers and loved ones.
Some notable startups in a few of these different digital health for senior sub-categories include:
Health monitoring tech: AliveCor
Mental health and wellbeing:Posit's Brain HQ, Rosetta Stone's Fit Brains, GrandCare and Independa
Medication Management: Medminder, Reminder Rosie, e-Pill, PillPack and Proteus Digital Health
Smart contact lenses: Novartis, Medella Health