Three Emerging Trends and Innovations for the Aging and Brain Health Sector


The increasing size of older adults as a proportion of the global population means, amongst other things, that health care facilities run the risk of becoming over-crowded.  As well, a larger proportion of older adults will also put pressure on healthcare practitioners – if the demand for care goes up, but our ability to provide care does not also grow, practitioners will struggle to support those in need of care.

To help prepare for the inevitable change in healthcare demands, new and innovative healthcare technologies are being developed and brought to market.  These will allow practitioners to provide more collaborative care to patients, keep older adults safer and protected from injury, and provide learning tools for caregivers that will allow them to better understand the challenges associated with aging and dementia.

The Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation is working with its network of healthcare facilities, researchers, point-of-care practitioners, and innovation hubs to identify and support innovation trends that will most certainly impact the healthcare sector in the future.  Below, we highlight three of those trends:

 

Collaborative Care

According to the Canadian Medical Association, collaborative care “entails physicians and other providers using complementary skills, knowledge, and competencies and working together to provide care to a common group of patients” (click here to see their July 2007 report: Putting Patients Firstâ: Patient-Centred Collaborative Care).  The collaborative care model is well-developed. However, the technology that facilitates the collaboration is where the innovation opportunity exists.

One example of an innovation supporting collaborative care is Tyze, a personal support network currently being used by St. Elizabeth Heath Care in Toronto.  Tyze leverages cloud computing to create a secure, practical, web-based solution that helps connect people with someone receiving care.  Tyze allows caregivers to privately communicate with family, friends, and helpers; schedule appointments and events on a shared calendar; share files, photos, and updates with the network.  To learn more about Tyze click this link to visit their website.

In March 2007, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation released a policy synthesis that concluded: “a health care system that supports effective teamwork can improve the quality of patient care, enhance patient safety, and reduce workload issues that cause burnout among health care professionals” (click this link to access the report).  Whether or not collaborative care is a beneficial model is not in doubt.  Rather, where the most successful innovation comes from seems to be the pressing question.

 

Wearable Sensors

The use of wearable technology represents another innovation trend that is targeting the aging and brain health sector.  Wearable technology promises to provide detection, prevention, and support the treatment of many conditions common to older adults.

An Israeli company, Hip Hope, is demonstrating how wearable technology can protect older adults from injury.  Their product is a smart wearable device, designed as a belt, that is worn around the user’s waist.  This technology uses a multi-sensor system that detects collision with the ground in the event of a fall.  Once a fall is detected, two airbags deploy and protect the wearer’s hips.  Further, fall alert notifications can automatically be sent to pre-defined email destinations. This technology can lead to fewer broken hips, which can reduce visits to the emergency room, and can keep older adults living independently at home.  To learn more about Hip Hope technology click here to see their YouTube video.

Additional wearable technology trends include innovations such as intelligent foot sensors that prevent falls, wearable watches that monitor heart rate and other critical health indicators, and devices that can track the whereabouts of older adults who might be prone to wandering – a common characteristic of those suffering from dementia.

 

Virtual Reality

Finally, organizations around the world are seeking to develop uses for virtual reality technology that can offer real value to the healthcare community.  In particular, virtual reality is being considered as a means to train caregivers through the use of empathy by allowing them to see the world through a new lens, that of the dementia patient.  In this manner, the caregiver can gain a better understanding of what life is like living with the disease.  Through this kind of empathy training, it is hoped that caregivers will be better equipped to manage their patients, and offer more meaningful and impactful care.

The growth of technology that supports a collaborative care model, wearable technology that can prevent injuries, and the use of virtual reality to develop empathy amongst caregivers represent three emerging innovations in healthcare.  Looking forward into 2017, these technologies will continue to develop and evolve as the healthcare sector dictates the new demands and needs of our aging population.

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