White House report highlights key focuses for healthy aging tech research

Developing these strategies and tools will be "critical" for the federal government as it manages the rapidly growing senior population, the report's authors wrote.
By Dave Muoio
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New technologies focused on communication, cognitive health and healthcare access are core to addressing the US’ ballooning senior demographic, according to a report recently published by The White House’s Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults.

These areas — along with transportation, personal mobility and independent living activities — should be among the primary focus of public and private entities looking “to improve the quality of life, enhance individual choice, reduce caregiver stress and cut healthcare costs.” Each of the six of the primary focuses are also broken down into discussions on relevant subcategories — communication, for instance, is comprised of discussions on hearing assistance, language translation tools and socialization technologies.

In addition, the report is bookended with a collection of opportunities, challenges and innovations that the task force said should be kept in mind when investigating new aging health technologies. These included user adoption, privacy and security, system needs and limitations, family caregiver needs and other areas of consideration.

Why it matters

Implementing healthy aging technologies across the country is not only an opportunity to cut healthcare costs, but a necessity when considering the looming tide of aging baby boomers.

“The number of Americans aged 65 or older is growing rapidly — increasing by 40 percent between 2000 and 2016 to approximately 50 million people, over 15 percent of the total population — and is expected to grow to nearly a quarter of the population by 2060,” the task force wrote. “The combination of the projected growth of this segment of the population and the desire of many older Americans to live independently in their homes and communities makes it critical that the federal government proactively develop strategies, tools and recommendations to enable older Americans to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible.”

The task force’s work highlighting chief avenues of consideration could also kickoff new policies supporting these technologies, an avenue discussed last month by speakers at HIMSS19.

“I’m waiting for a policy intervention that boosts the adoption [among older adults],” Laurie Orlov, principal analyst at Aging In Place Technology Watch, said during a HIMSS19 panel last month. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Older Americans Act, but [it’s] what created senior centers and meals on wheels in the United States, and it added technology components. [This kind of approach] could be the way we boost the adoption of technologies in older adults, particularly in the area of smartphones, which are relevant to almost everything we talked about today. But most importantly, it’d train older adults in their use.”

What’s the trend

Stakeholders across the health tech industry are developing new technologies that can support healthy aging, and most fall within the report’s six major themes. For example, CES 2019 saw Royal Philips unveil an app-based ecosystem for family members to coordinate the care of their loved ones, while the past summer saw Best Buy’s big ticket purchase of senior communications tech company GreatCall. In the startup space, digital caregiver marketplace Kindly Care, smart home and wellness tech platform K4Connect and senior companionship-foced Papa have all seen recent funding.

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