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Older Persons Day — The Gray Revolution

30 Sep 2015 by Teresa Meek

Oct. 1 is the International Day of Older Persons, established by the United Nations in 1990 and commonly known as Older Persons Day.

Aging has changed dramatically, and so have the demographics of older people — there are far more of them, and they are living longer. Many people worry that a social and economic catastrophe could result from caring for them.

But technology might just solve the problem.

A demographic surge

According to the World Health Organization, we are in the midst of a demographic revolution. Worldwide, the number of people age 60 and above will double by 2025 and reach almost 2 billion by 2050.

In the U.S., seniors 65 and older represented 14% of the population in 2013, the last year of data collection. By 2060, there will be twice as many.

It’s not just because pig-in-the-python baby boomers are hitting 65 — seniors are living longer, too. Life expectancy has risen to a record high of 78.7 years. For perspective, in 1930, it was just 58 years for men and 62 for women.

Older and healthier

The good news is, people are not only living longer — they’re living healthier. Death rates from the two leading causes — heart disease and cancer — have been falling since 1999.

Older people are working longer, and pursuing active hobbies after retirement. In Scotland, for example, 104-year-old, great-grandmother Grace Brett redefined the stereotype of an old lady knitting by "yard bombing" her town with large crocheted artworks that were displayed on 46 landmarks.

With both parents working in younger generations, older people often fill the childcare gap. In Spain, women age 75 to 84 spend more time caring for sick and dependent relatives than any other age group.

Serious, bed-confining illness that used to last six or seven years have been reduced. Now, most people are ill only for a short period at the very end of life.

Seniors are also getting smarter. A Danish study found that older people today perform better on cognitive tests than their predecessors.

Caring for the elderly

Despite all this good news, many people fear that the surge of older people will result in an economic catastrophe as fewer working people are left to foot the bills for their care.

If you assume that healthcare for the elderly means frequent hospital visits and long stays in a nursing home, the consequences could indeed be severe.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring

According to the AARP, 90% of seniors over 65 want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. But staying home alone can make it hard for them to get to the doctor. Compounding the problem, there may not be enough doctors to treat them. By 2025, the U.S. will face a physician shortage of 52,000.

Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring might be the answers.

Telemedicine provides remote access to a physician by a phone or videoconference. The technology can not only save older people from a difficult trip to a doctor’s office, it can keep them from a costly visit to the emergency room.

A Centers for Disease Control report found that telemedicine reduced emergency room visits, as well as hospital admissions, re-admissions and length of stay. Congestive heart failure patients treated by telemedicine had a 15% to 56% reduction in mortality compared with those treated at doctors’ offices or hospitals.

Remote patient monitoring — providing patients with devices that measure blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, and can sense a fall — can keep them out of nursing homes.

Not all insurance providers cover telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. Some cite worries about compliance with laws governing health data privacy. But as the technologies spread and security measures are strengthened, they may not only lengthen the lives of older people, but provide them with a better quality of life than ever.

Gain a greater understanding of emerging technologies in healthcare here.