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Addressing loneliness with technology: how innovative tools can improve seniors’ well-being

David Inns, CEO

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Addressing loneliness with technology: how innovative tools can improve seniors’ well-being

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

Loneliness may be part of the human condition, but studies show it can have particularly negative health consequences for older adults. Given the rapid growth of this demographic, the time has come to harness our creativity and technology to tackle that “most daring thing.”

Today’s young people are tomorrow’s seniors

Life expectancy continues to rise—thanks to improved medical care, nutrition, and lifestyles. According to a 2016 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of adults age 65 and older in the United States is projected to double by 2060, reaching 98 million.

Yet despite these improvements, many older adults still suffer from loneliness, along with a more serious condition—social isolation. A quantifiable measurement of a person’s social networks, social isolation may affect up to 43 percent of the senior population.

Together, loneliness and social isolation impact more than one’s emotional well-being.

According to white paper called Connecting the Lonely: Making a Difference in the Well-Being of Older Adults, authored by Aging in Place Technology Watch, older adults with fewer social interactions are more likely to suffer from poor self-care, depression, and a decline in cognitive abilities. This vicious cycle results in a rapid worsening of age-related medical issues.

In fact, one AARP study found seniors who feel lonely “more likely to be impaired in their ability to conduct activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, feeding, or toileting.” These limitations can have dire consequences for seniors and the people who care about them.

How technology can meet the challenge of our changing demographics

The impact of loneliness and social isolation exact a high cost on everyone—including the senior who can no longer live alone safely, family caregivers saddled with growing responsibilities and expenses, and managed care organizations facing greater financial risks and uncertainty.

Despite these challenges, there’s good reason for optimism. Technology can play a role in improving the well-being of older adults: It can connect seniors who live alone with family members and friends. It can promote their independence and safety. And it can encourage their participation in activities.

We know that our turnkey solutions help older adults stay active, independent, and connected to their family members, yet we still see hundreds of customers—up to 250 per month—contacting our call center seeking social interaction. Face-to-face contact is an obvious solution. But for those who aren’t near friends and family, technology can help mitigate social isolation.

Some ways that GreatCall’s end-to-end solutions support seniors’ physical and psychological health include:

  • PERS (personal emergency response system) devices, which give seniors the confidence to live more active lifestyles.
  • Passive remote monitoring solutions, which allow seniors to remain at home and rooted in their community.
  • Urgent response services, delivering two-way communication with trained agents to assess a situation and provide help as needed.
  • Easy-to-use app for increased engagement between seniors and their family members.

With access to (and familiarity with) technology growing among older Americans, innovative managed care organizations are paying close attention. And these leaders are wisely incorporating connected health solutions to address loneliness and social isolation—and to reduce PMPM costs and improve health outcomes.

To boost access, ownership, and use of technology among older adults, managed care organizations should look for technology partners with experience in the senior market. These partners will offer a simple user interface design, trained call-center customer service, and a range of options in devices and service offerings (one size does not fit all).

We know that loneliness and social isolation are complex issues, and technology alone will not solve either. But with the right technology strategy, we can improve the well-being of seniors and help combat what Vonnegut aptly called “the terrible disease of loneliness.”

Get the white paper