A Place for Mom

Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Lindsay Hicks

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenAugust 3, 2013

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the commencement of their annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. This is a general scholarship which will award the selected applicants with a financial donation. We have narrowed-down the finalists, which includes Lindsay Hicks.

Congratulations to Lindsay Hicks, Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Lindsay’s essay below and vote for her if you think she deserves to be one of the 5 recipients of the $1,000 scholarship awards.

Lindsay’s Essay

The Test of a Civilization

It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” (Hubert H. Humphrey)   With experts predicting that by 2050 the number of Americans over the age of 65 will have doubled and 1 out of every 4 people will be senior citizens; including an estimated 7.1 million afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease (a 40% increase); the way our government responds to this “Silver Tsunami” will determine the fate of our society as a whole.  Pearl S. Buck once said, “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

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This “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers is unprecedented in the history of the United States.  Gone are the days of matriarchies, where three or more generations of a family resided together and helped and supported each other.  These aging Baby Boomers were the first generation in which the norm was for women to work outside of the home. They are a generation accustomed to the finer things in life such as nice cars and home ownership and they were willing to work hard to achieve a comfortable lifestyle.  This dedication to career has resulted in a constantly declining birth rate over the last few decades which has left our nation with fewer young people to replace our aging seniors. With our younger citizens being classified as the “me” generation it is going to become increasingly difficult to find young people willing and able to care for our senior citizens.  “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” (James A. Baldwin)  With that in mind the “Baby Boomers” who make up our government, medical profession, scientific and technological communities need to start now to address the need for more effective senior care programs that will stand the test of time and allow for the ever decreasing number of care givers.  In formulating their plans these leaders need to into account the problems resulting from our nation’s lack of universal health care, the very real possibility that social security may go the way of the dinosaurs, and the ever increasing costs of food, housing, and transportation which plague not only our senior population but all of our citizens.

The secret weapon in our arsenal in the battle against the “Silver Tsunami” is the fact that our “Baby Boomers are technologically savvy.  We must wield this technological superiority like Excalibur’s sword and cut through the apathy, disdain, and intolerance that is directed towards our senior population.  Fortunately leaders in our Technological community have already taken steps to utilize their knowledge and resources to prepare for the “Silver Tsunami” and anticipate a time when more and more of our senior citizens can be allowed to age in their own homes safely, independently, and more cost effectively.  The Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation and the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (the nation’s largest not-for-profit provider of senior care and services) have teamed up for Mayo’s Healthy Aging & Independent Living (HAIL) Lab where focus groups, engineers, and computer programmers work together to design, prototype, and test new services and technologies designed to make it easier and safer for senior citizens to remain in their homes.  Care Innovations a partnership between Intel Corporation and GE have created The Innovation Series which is already providing technology-based solutions for everyday living.  This collaborative; which has given us the infamous clapper for turning lights on and off; is now working on WiSee which will allow hand gestures to turn lights and appliances on and off as well as turning the room temperature up or down.  The topic of senior care brought 1800 of the world’s best thinkers and doers in health and technology together this year at a conference called TEDMED, where they debuted The Hive which is dedicated to supporting inventions and entrepreneurs in health and medicine.  The Hive has thus far given us the following innovations in senior care.

  1. QMedic–  is a wearable sensor that monitors the senior’s physical activity, sleep, and any falls. It gives real-time alerts to off-site caregivers and provides data to monitor health decline, with the added bonus that the system operates without ever needing to recharge the batteries.
  2. Neurotrack Technologies– has the ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or dementia long before symptoms even appear, and in turn leads to developing drugs to treat or prevent the disease.
  3. iMpak Health– is another sensor based technology which alerts physicians to events that occur to their patients at home that might indicate a problem with medicine usage or other situations.
  4. VGBio– is a wireless technology which analyzes bio signals given off by the seniors and provides caregivers and physicians early notification of a change in their patient’s condition.
  5. iWatch from Apple and Jawbone Up– both fit around the wrist, and monitor heart rates and sleep patterns that can be uploaded and analyzed by the physician.
  6. PAMSys– by BioSensics and Aventyn remotely monitors the senior’s physical activity, ECS, gait, and posture.
  7. Metria wearable sensors– by Avery Dennison sticks to the wearer’s skin and provides algorithms which the caregiver can analyze remotely and advise if action is required.

Other monitoring tools already in use include:

  1. Mymedic Telehealth Monitor (LivingMadeEasy.org.uk) works with scales, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, and peak flow meters and Bluetooth technology to send data to physicians if there are any abnormal measurements.
  2. GrandCare System– is basically a computer with large icons that give the at home seniors access to their medications, internet browsing, and games to fight off mental decline.
  3. Proteus Digital Health Feedback System– is a special pill that is mixed in with the senior’s regular daily pills, and once swallowed it sends a signal to a patch on their stomach and alerts caregiver’s smartphone in a remote location that the senior has taken his prescribed medication.

In addition to the above named monitoring tools, technology has been developed that tracks the seniors location, which is particularly helpful for patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s who might wander off.  If the senior leaves the “safe zone”, a designated contact is immediately alerted via their smartphone.  Tracking devices available include GPS-equipped watches, shoes with GPS trackers sewn inside, and phones such as the Doro PhoneEasy 618 (available for only $60 at major retailers) which has big buttons, easy for the seniors to use.  This phone also has one big button on the outside of the phone, which when pressed quickly 3 times will alert a pre-programmed emergency contact.  The phone also has an icon called ICE that stores important data such as height, weight, date of birth, emergency contact numbers, physician information, allergies, medications, blood type, vaccinations, and any medical conditions.  These tracking devices allow seniors to remain independent and continue living at home, while giving their loved ones peace of mind.

Senior Care technology is not limited only to tracking and monitoring the patient.  Japan, where 40% of the population is estimated to be seniors by the year 2050, has really stepped up in developing technology to allow seniors the dignity of living independently.  Knowing the importance of interacting with other living things, they have developed robots who can entertain and help the seniors when human company is unavailable.  Chapit is a monkey-like robot that can learn over 10,000 words and in addition to returning a morning greeting, it can change TV channels, browse the internet for you, and turn electric items on and off.  The Japanese government has funded the Paro a “fuzzy, seal-like robot the size of a large cat” that likes to be held and petted and provides companionship to seniors who either can’t have real pets in their homes or are too frail to care for them.  RIBA looks like a cute little bear, but in reality is a robot that can respond to voice commands from the senior or their caregiver and can lift patients weighing up to 135 pounds on and off beds, wheelchairs, and toilets.  Robovie-II is a robot provided in Japanese stores which helps the elderly and disabled shop by guiding them through the store, reminding them of their shopping list (which has been downloaded from the shoppers smartphone), and even carry the groceries.  The RAPUDA arm is a robotic arm that can be attached to a wheelchair and operated with a joystick to help pick up objects.

For these Baby Boomers to whom smartphones, tablets, and computers are as vital as their arms and legs, technology is the key to providing for their senior years.  More and more seniors want to remain in their homes as they age and continue to live independently.  This desire for independence accompanied by the fact that paying for in-home caregivers are exorbitantly expensive, and nursing homes cost over $50,000 a year, means that we as a country need to provide the resources to expand the technology to allow our seniors to remain as home.  While no technology can replace human contact, it can provide care, comfort, and peace of mind.  “Old age is not a disease-it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” (Maggie Kuhn)

As a neuroscience major on the pre-med track at Baylor University I know that technology will be vitally important to the care and treatment of my future patients.  I also realize that the senior citizens of today have paved the way for me; a poor girl from a very small Texas town; to be able to one day reach my goal of becoming a Neurosurgeon.  As a society we need to honor and revere our senior citizens, who have struggled and fought to give us the amazing life we have today in the United States of America. The future growth of our nation is contingent upon preparing for the “Senior Tsunami” with increased development of technological innovations to provide for the health and independence of our aging population.  As Yo-Yo Ma once said, “When you learn something from people or from a culture, you accept it as a gift; it is your lifelong commitment to preserve and build on it.” 

Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen

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