Emerging Tools to Monitor Health and Personal Care

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By Mary Harris; Founder of Lifelong Wellness Advocates, LLC- Denver
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Caregiving for a family member has become a new job title for many relatives. Currently, 39% of U.S. adults provide care for a relative or close friend. This statistic has increased 9% from 2010. Long-distance caregiving for an elderly parent is common due to families relocating based on a specific career path. Research has found that many caregivers utilize technology to help diagnose and manage their loved one’s health care whether they live in close proximity or far away.

We are currently experiencing a mobile health surge in the quantity and variety of monitoring devices that are now available to purchase or in the development pipeline. These devices allow the user to proactively manage an illness or assist in preventing a health crisis by collecting / analyzing vital health statistics and tracking your lifestyle.

Currently, there are 100,000 mobile medical applications on the market. Some are working diligently to find solutions to not only monitor your health, but also secure your personal health information that is being collected. Applications that are not free are less likely to sell your personal data to advertisers or third parties to make money. In any case, this is one of the biggest challenges for the use of medical monitoring devices as security of data is never 100% fail safe.

Several of the largest technology companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung are getting into the smart watch business. Vital signs like heart and pulse rate, blood sugar level and oxygen level can be monitored. These devices currently are larger and more cumbersome than individual monitoring devices and also are slated for offering functionality that is currently available on mobile phones. The exact smart watch features, functionality, practicality and application for effective health care monitoring are yet to be proven in the market place.

There are wearable, wireless devices that can act as a personal GPS locator to alert a caregiver if someone has fallen or has wandered from home. Much of the data retrieved as well as alerts can be shared between the user and a caregiver. Currently these types of more specialized devices, such as the UP by Jawbone appear to more practical for individual health monitoring and in some cases senior care. Even a wireless smart pill dispenser can alert a caregiver that a medication was not taken.

It is estimated that the total market for wearable, wireless devices will be 170 million units by 2017. The UP by Jawbone hopes that it receives a large share of this market. It is used in conjunction with a free Internet app to track your daily sleep, food consumption and mobility. It is relatively user-friendly and the data obtained will allow users to make informed decisions on current and anticipated care needs.

Sleep patterns and a built-in pedometer to track your daily steps is incorporated in the UP product as well as some of its competitors. Since sleep patterns change considerably as we age, especially for individuals living with dementia, it is beneficial to know not only when one falls asleep throughout the day but also how long do they sleep, are they experiencing a deep or light sleep and how frequently do they get up.

It has been determined that 10,000 steps per day for an active person is a healthy goal. But what about an elderly or disabled person who has a medical condition that affects his/her mobility? The UP wristband will allow the user or caregiver to track on a daily basis the amount of steps taken. This information can be used to justify increasing therapy or revising an exercise plan to maintain or improve results.

Many of these wearable devices allow you to track food consumption. Nutrition and caloric intake can be monitored once it has been entered into the application. Depending on the cognition level of some older adults, assistance may be necessary during this input process. If an in-home caregiver has been hired or an assisted living community is utilized, a wearable medical device is a useful tool to monitor their personal care.

Although the market is adding new products at a rapid pace, many of the devices and corresponding applications have a singular focus to their functionality. You will see more providers design products attempting to combine functionality into one wearable device so the consumer will ultimately only need one or a few of these devices to accomplish most of their personal health goals and care needs. 

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