March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 08.01.05

Solutions for an Aging Nation

Remote technologies offer out-patient care and peace of mind to adult children of the elderly.
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By Tim Bajarin




One of the largest growth markets in mobile technology today is the medical field, especially in areas such as hospital administration and medical information systems management. This particular market has been a fast adopter of Microsoft’s Tablet PC, as well as devices such as the Palm PDA, Pocket PC and smartphones.

However, a new horizontal market for mobile medical-related devices is emerging, and technology industry giants, as well as hospital administrators and doctors, are watching this trend very closely. This new market has to do with out-patient monitoring and another new area called mobile elder care.

Although patient monitoring could come under a more vertical medical market slant, it has a horizontal nature as well. This twist comes from the growing ranks of senior citizens around the world and their children’s desire to monitor their whereabouts and medical needs.

Research from multiple government agencies states that about 10 percent of the world’s population was age 60 or older in 2000, and that figure will more than double to 22 percent by 2050. Countries such as Italy and Japan are projected to have as much as 28 percent of their population over age 65 by 2030. Forecasters also believe that in richer areas of the world there will be two golden agers for every child by 2050. As you can imagine, such a large group of senior citizens will severely tax healthcare systems, and the demand for all types of technology to help meet needs and cut costs will only increase.

For the elderly themselves, new products are coming out to help them live on their own and deal with important tasks such as taking the right pills at the right time and monitoring their medical conditions. MediVoxRX, in Pittsburgh, Pa., has developed Rex, the talking pill bottle. By pressing a button on its base, it plays back spoken prescription information, stored on a microchip, through a miniature speaker on the bottle. An upcoming version of Rex will even warn if a bottle has been opened too many times in a day.
HealthHero Network developed the HealthBuddy, a dedicated computer that offers daily coaching for treating some 45 health conditions. The latest version has a color screen and ports for connecting medical sensors, such as a device for measuring a diabetic’s glucose levels. The Health Buddy can use a normal phone line to transmit those blood sugar readings to a doctor every day for real time out-patient monitoring.

For grown children who can’t be with their parents constantly but want to know that they are taking their medications and getting around, a technology is already here that can send that glucose reading to their cell phone as the parent transmits the reading to the doctor, as well as send an alert when parents take their pills as prescribed. Other technologies are in the works that could, for example, monitor the opening of a refrigerator, to make sure parents are going about their normal activities. In Japan, the i-Pot system, devised by Zojirushi, Fujitsu and NTT, is an Internet-connected kettle. Whenever it is used—which is many times a day in tea-loving Japan—it transmits a wireless signal to a central server, and concerned children can check to see if it has been used that day. It also sends a twice-daily summary to the family member via e-mail.

These are just a few of the technologies that hospitals, doctors and family members will soon have at their disposal to help them deal with the growing health needs of this older group whose desire is to remain on their own as long as possible, and whose children wish them to have the best care. •
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