In recent decades, there have only been a few options for older Americans. Either you lived with family, you went to a "nursing home", or you were lucky enough to enjoy perfect health until the end of your life. Of course, these options are inappropriate for many people. And as baby boomers advance in age, there is a burgeoning population of people demanding new options. Many of these new options many need the support of telehealth and telemedicine to make them sustainable.
One reason for this focus on different options, that there is greater appreciation for, is the many nuances in what people need and want as they age. At the most basic level, the simplistic categories of "disabled" or "independent" are proving to be useless. Many people desire a lot of independence -- and are capable of it -- but just need some assistance. Dr. Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, says: “It’s extremely important for us as a society to understand that getting older and losing some degree of functioning does not have to be equated with the loss of independence."
Another factor in older Americans searching for, and creating, other options is an increased valuing of a productive, engaged, intellectual older age. For instance, some communities are creating intergenerational university programs that offer a unique level of education, interaction, and shared responsibilty. Other programs focus on constituents that want to continue to work or stay active in other significant ways and are built in diverse, thriving communities. And there is increasing recognition of people who are choosing to prepare for future decades, even at a relatively young age.
Finally, some seniors are focusing on "aging in place." Whether through a community of people who happen to be getting older at the same time -- Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) -- or through coordinated efforts like "senior cohousing", there is an increased focus on lifestyle, independence, and community. As a son of one of the citizens of this NORC said, however, "Watching this little community cope with shopping and banking and constant medical visits, I have wondered why services can’t be brought to these residents. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have a nurse visit weekly, instead of each person making a laborious trip to a doctor’s office?"
Indeed, many who are innovating new ways to age in their homes and communities are finding telehealth, telemedicine, and e-health to be the crucial keystone that holds it all together.
Many initiatives focus on the non-health aspects of a community, like intellectual stimulation. However, the reality of life after 65 is that health issues arise, and they often arise without warning. Telehealth and telemedicine can make it so that the medical aspects are more easily addressed, without a lot of interruption to the senior's life. The NYTimes, for instance, lists these advantages to e-health for people over 65. Telemedicine can extend the viability of aging in place initiatives because the help that is accessible -- aides and nurses -- can be extended through remote consultations. Telehealth monitoring further extends it by allowing people to recuperate at home, who normally would need to have gone to a Rehabilitation Facility for further monitoring.
How are you integrating telemedicine and telehealth into your assisted living community, NORC, senior cohousing, or other community? How do you find that the continuum of care is better served by being able to do medical collaboration and care coordination? We'd love to hear, in the comments below.
And if Hybrid Store and Forward is one telemedicine option you're considering, feel free to download our free overview, below:
Image courtesy of fairfaxcounty on Flickr, used under Creative Commons rights.