For older people in our country, particularly in today's economy, it is hard to put together a care plan that balances good medical care with needs for independence -- and interdependence. Costs are higher than ever and with people living longer, more productive lives, these decisions are increasingly important.
An Assisted Living Community can be fantastic, but if seniors wait too long, it can be hard to get into one. Living at home supports independence but can be isolating and is very expensive if there are medical needs to attend to. And skilled nursing facilities may be a higher level of care or cost than many people are ready for.
There are some trends showing that the number of Americans living in multi-generational households is increasing dramatically. NPR's fantastic series on these families is illuminating and puts a face to the 51.4 million people who are now living together in this way (the highest rate of Americans living inter-generationally in modern history.)
However, despite the increase in families living in multi-generational homes, and despite the growth of Assisted Living Communities, most older Americans are living alone -- and isolation is often a part of their experience. For these individuals, isolation does not just affect happiness and well-being. Isolation in older age also makes medical care very challenging. For instance, a study cited by NPR shows that "people with dementia who are cared for at home are more likely to get unwanted treatment than if they are in a nursing home."
Living at home can be great for many things, but isolation and increasing medical demands require sophisticated management.
For instance, let's take the case of Edna, an 89-year-old firecracker of a woman who loves crochet, seeing her grandchildren, and baking pies with unusual flavors like vanilla-blueberry-lavender. Edna has been in great health her whole life, lives in an Assisted Living Community, and has a caregiver who stays with her during the day. Her caregiver, Librada, is extraordinary, loving, and adored by Edna. But when Edna has a question about a sore, pain, medication, or shortness of breath, Librada doesn't have the medical background to make a call. So Librada usually contacts Edna's family (who can be hard to get ahold of, with burdensome work schedules), then takes Edna for a just-to-be-sure check with one or more physicians. These checks often turn into round-robbins of medical visits, at the end of which Edna is exhausted, frustrated, and feels worse than ever.
So what is the solution for seniors living at home, receiving home-care, living in Assisted Living communities, or even for those in skilled nursing facilities? We're finding that Store-and-Forward telemedicine can play a key role in achieving these goals. By using this telemedicine platform for coordination of care and medical collaboration, the people and providers caring for seniors can coordinate in ways that break through isolation, limit transportation, limit unnecessary medical visits, and manage long-term conditions in sophisticated ways.
We think that any solution for older patients should prioritize 3 things:
- Limiting unnecessary visits to medical providers
- Ensuring coordination of care among caregivers, family, and medical providers
- Sophisticated management of conditions that take into account the patient's priorities, lifestyle, and end-of-life plan.