There is a perfect storm emerging when it comes to senior care in America. Due to a convergence of circumstances in our society, I believe the US senior care industry, and how care is delivered, will evolve as much in the next 3 years as it evolved over the previous 20 years. As I survey the future, I see three main areas that will totally change the landscape: New Technologies, the Care Environment (the place where the care occurs), and how Caregivers are recruited and hired. I believe when it comes to senior care, the future is fast approaching.
Technology is the area where we will see the most change and it is driving the change taking place in the other two areas. Over the next few years we will see an increase in lower cost solutions that will aid in the delivery of health care. The increase in the use of technology is so critical because when you increase technology to deliver care you can reduce the man hours needed to deliver care. As we see on the news every day, our nation must find a more cost effective way to deliver care. Through careful use of technology and highly qualified caregivers, we can deliver a HIGHER quality of care while reducing the man hours required to deliver care by 30-50%.
So how will this happen? Well, solutions are hitting the marketplace even today. In this article I will just highlight a few examples. Automated medication delivery systems that alert patients to take a med, dispense only the right dosage, sense when meds are not taken, relock the untaken meds back into the machine, and then alert family members can save hours per week of paid, human care in the home. The Phillips Lifeline Medication Dispenser is a great example of this type of system and is one I personally recommend. But automated medication delivery systems are just a drop in the technological bucket.
Currently prototypes of “smart homes” for seniors are being tested by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. With electronic sensors the home can monitor the patient’s vitals as well as safety concerns (like running water or oven burners) and can alert caregivers when problems arise. While this might seem very “George Jetson”, we will soon be seeing many products that are reasonably priced that can be deployed into seniors existing homes (for example, a stove that alerts caregivers when a burner is left on too long). This helps eliminate some of the hands on care for Mom or Dad because no one is needed to monitor them 24/7—some of the human monitoring can instead be done by these smart systems. Instead help is only needed for hands on care and companionship. This will drastically reduce caregiver costs.
The days of just moving into a facility when you can no longer remain independent seem long gone. According to recent studies done by the Department of HHS, seniors want to do everything they can to remain at home. As a result a current trend is for seniors to age in the general community and not in specific facilities. All over the country we are seeing the development of senior neighborhoods–areas where a group of seniors live in their own homes but through the use of shared community resources can receive additional support. They may have a shared caregiver that can assist the community members with medication dispensing and doctor visits. Or they may have a communal cook who can prepare a number of meals for the week. What this means is that instead of needing to contract for care 8 hours per day, you may only need to pay for 2-3 per day because you are remaining “at home” but are sharing caregivers with your neighbors.
Another great innovation is prefab mother-in-law pods. These pods can be place temporarily (or permanently) on your property and they provide full living quarters for a senior. They can be a substantial savings over home renovations, and they provide seniors with extra privacy. In addition, by affordably having mom or dad right there, families are available to help with basic needs, which reduces overall costs.
The third element that we will see change in the future of senior care is the people who actually provide the care. Sites like our own are providing safer and better supported ways to hire caregivers directly. Hiring caregivers directly allows families to cut out the middleman and the associated overhead fees, but it must be done safely while protecting the senior, family, and caregivers. If families can get background checks, taxes, backup care, bonding, and workers comp while hiring a caregiver directly, many will decide to pay a 1/3 less than typical agency fees and decide to hire a caregiver directly. This is the type of service offered through CareFamily.com.
Caregivers are also increasingly the family members. The good news is many Long Term Care Insurance policies now allow policy holders to pay any qualified individual to provide care (even family, neighbors, or friends). As a result, seniors may be more likely to try to find a family member, either immediate or extended family, to provide care. The challenge for the future will be to find inexpensive and easily accessible training opportunities for these new caregivers.
This is an exciting time for the senior care industry. Our industry is rapidly approaching the pinnacle of great change that will allow us to better care for our aging population. The best part is, during a time when it is really needed, the cost of care may come down. That is good news for the future!