New Aging Realities Inspired in the Pandemic Age

By Peter Hubbell

This article was originally published on Media Village

With each day, we're learning more and more about the unfortunate health impact of the Coronavirus, including its disproportionate toll on people of age. As a new normal emerges, we will see sweeping changes in how health care is administered and how nursing homes are operated. All of this will contribute to the acceleration of independent care models, and the implications for how and where 78 million baby boomers will age will be massive.

Here's why:

Telehealth is Booming:

The stay at home mandates prompted by the pandemic gave the emerging telemedicine industry a shot in the arm that it never could have expected. With millions of patients avoiding their traditional bricks and mortar-based physicians out of respect for distancing and fear of contamination, the enduring barriers to virtual care dropped in days. According to recent Forrester research, we can expect virtual doctor visits in the U.S. alone to top one billion by year end. While the office visit isn't going to go away, it's clearly going to lose share to virtual visits and why not? Name someone who enjoys sitting in a doctor's waiting room. Thought so. And now that we're hyper-sensitive to the transmission of germs, it's definitely not a place that any of us is going to voluntarily visit any time soon. Telehealth finally has the toe-hold that it's been waiting for and it's reasonable to expect that it could soon represent the majority of wellness care. While all of us will always be dependent on health care, the way it will be administered is being transformed and is providing increased patient independence.

Aging in Place is Going Places

One of the most active spaces in marketing to age is the growing desire to age in place i.e. the choice to age successfully in one's own home. To-date, this preference has been driven by the desire to retain an independent lifestyle within the comfort of familiar surroundings. But now there are two new dynamics - one that exists and one that is emerging - that will dramatically accelerate the growth of aging in place alternatives: technology and safety.

The advent and affordability of smartphone-based monitoring apps has been the primary enabler of aging in one's own home. Today's technology helps both the caregiver and the elder by tracking a wide range of information that's essential to wellness e.g. vital signs, nutritional intake, medications, activity/inactivity, falls and comings and goings. The application of this technology is proliferating not just because of what it can do but how it functions. Improvements to intuitiveness and the removal of the stigma of the prior generation of "warning" devices has reluctant elders finally embracing what's new.

Pandemic-driven concerns for safety will also prompt the choice to privately age in place to avoid the perceived risk associated with more public alternatives. There's no doubt that it's going to be a long road back for the nursing home sector, and until that happens, caregivers are going to opt for the safer route of providing at home care. We will see remote caregiving evolve from today's norm of monitoring to also include as needed interventions by private networks of nurses and nurse practitioners. Staying healthy is now going to be as much about staying safe as it is about wellness care.

Community Can't be Compromised

For every action there's an opposite and equal reaction. As the new telehealth and aging in place dynamics take hold, individuals' increased emphasis on privacy and avoidance runs the risk of inviting feelings of isolation. Since it's well-established that isolation is detrimental to emotional well-being, the new caregiving models will need to find ways to compensate. Despite all of the technological improvements in helping people to stay connected virtually, there is no substitute for the in-person contact and interaction that people of age crave. While the nursing home model is being scrutinized for safety, it needs to be recognized for the communal benefits that it provides and that type of emotional caregiving needs to find its way to the home. High technology will not thrive unless it's accompanied by high touch.

In all of this, the good news is that people of age will be able to experience assisted-living choices that were once inconceivable. Improvements in longevity mean that people are living longer, and with a new wave of improvements in caregiving they can also enjoy a better quality of life longer too. If we're getting better at the way we manage aging, then people truly can get better with age. How wonderful is that?

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