The Longevity

Two Ways Tech Can Extend the ‘Healthspan’ of Older Adults

This week, Joseph C. Kvedar, MD offered MobiHealthNews a sneak peek of two fundamental concepts he discusses in his new book, The New Mobile Age: How Technology Can Extend the Healthspan and Optimize the Lifespan

First some context. We’ve added 25 years to our lifespan in the last century through various public health innovations, but we haven’t provided tools to help us use those additional years in the most productive, fulfilling way. Instead, we’ve put folks in that demographic (those in the latter 25 years of their life) into a category of “old.” They retire, are perceived as no longer adding value or, even worse, become a burden to their “sandwich generation” adult children.
We must turn aging from being a dreaded inevitability into something to be celebrated. My friend Jody Holtzman from AARP, who is quoted in the book, coined the term “Longevity Economy,” and defines it as the 100-plus million people in the United States over age 50 who account for $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity. He quite accurately notes that only in the eyes of the U.S. government would this population be viewed as a burden. Rather, we need to refocus on this group of older adults as an opportunity!

Kvedar’s first concept is healthspan as opposed to simply lifespan. Our priority, he says, should be to “enhance the healthspan, by giving people the tools needed to improve their health and inspire them to maintain healthy lifestyle choices.”

And, of course, connected health is a big part of the solution. There are multiple dimensions at play….

One is a sense of purpose. People who have some purposeful activity they pursue in retirement are healthier. Research bears this out. The second is social connections. Again, there is a remarkable body of evidence on this, and it turns out that isolation eats away at an individual and has the same effect on health as multiple packs of cigarettes a day! Finally, physical activity. This can range from taking the stairs or walking each day to going to the gym or even remaining a competitive athlete.

None of these measures are unique to aging, but to strip away the traditional, clinical science and break it down into these three simple predictors was liberating for me. Of course, the bonus is that connected health can play a role in all three, whether it is participating in the gig economy to drive purpose, being active on social media or FaceTime to keep up social connections or tracking your steps on a Fitbit. All these challenges are made easier by modern technology.

The second concept Kvedar focuses on in his new book involves using technology to manage chronic illness. 

As much as we’d all like to stay healthy all our lives and die peacefully at a ripe old age, the fact is we all suffer from system wear and tear and require more illness management as time goes on. We are at the breakpoint as a society, and, very soon, we won’t have enough healthcare providers and caregivers to tend to the aging population if we only rely on one-to-one care delivery models. We spend a lot of time in The New Mobile Age talking about how to use technology to create one-to-many care delivery models. 

Kvedar will participate in the plenary panel on Envisioning the Connected Life Journey at this year’s upcoming Connected Health Conference in Boston, October 25-27th.

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