Combating aging: the latest in medical technology

Jun 3, 2017

Getting older is an inevitable part of our lives, with age-related issues and conditions inspiring new advancements in technology to aid those affected. Whether it’s medication management, falling, or other problems facing aging adults, the latest medical technologies are offering new ways to combat those barriers.

To find out more about some of these new technologies, “Take Care” was joined by Dr. David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging -- a research group in Oakland, California.

There are a variety of challenges that people may encounter as they get older, Lindeman explains. Of course, there are chronic diseases and conditions related to aging like Parkinson’s and dementia, but other issues include falling, depression, incontinence, medication management, and social isolation.

And the technologies in development that combat these challenges, Lindeman says, are enhancements -- supplements. Because while they can aid individuals, technology does not replace the physical benefit of a healthy lifestyle, for instance, or the social benefit of a home aid. So, although they may not be an end-all be-all solution to aging, they can still improve quality of life.

One technology, for example, promises to monitor medication dosing through pills with embedded sensors. Once taken, the pill sends a signal to your phone which can then be relayed to a clinician or a family member, to confirm that medication is being taken. There are also automated medication machines sold over the counter, and smart phone apps that provide text message reminders when it’s time to take medication.

According to Lindeman, medication management is a $390 billion issue in the United States annually. Forgetting to take medicine can cause a decline in health and sometimes even hospitalization, resulting in higher costs for the patient.

Other technologies Lindeman mentions include:

·         “Smart toilets” – toilets that can monitor an individual’s health issues by gathering analytics – which have become very popular in Japan

·         Voice-activated technology, which can be especially helpful to older folks who are less familiar with operating technological equipment

·         Cameras and motion detectors in the home which ensure that appliances are turned off, the home’s perimeter is secure, etc.

·         Autonomous vehicles, which are “truly coming, and will allow for a whole new level of independence”

·         Sensors in clothing which can gather and relay information

·         Robotics and artificial intelligence, which can take care of remedial and repetitive work in the home

It can be difficult, Lindeman notes, for members of older generations to get the hang of certain appliances and technologies. But luckily, he says, the latest technologies are becoming increasingly user-friendly, especially as voice commands become the norm.

There are numerous issues driving these advancements, he adds. For one thing, demographics are changing, with more elderly people and fewer caregivers (professionally and within families). Further, rapid improvement and lowering costs have made access to these technologies much more feasible.

And as more and more individuals have access to information regarding health and advancements in medicine, they are compelled to give them a try, in an effort to increase their independence and quality of life.

In this way, the “advent of big data” is a fundamental drive of medical advancement, Lindeman says. We have so much information to work with today, and as we learn how to use that information, we can create methods to cope with aging and all that comes with it.