Health IT empowers seniors, creates e-patients

Technology holds several important keys for improving the lives of seniors, according to a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease this week. The report explores the emergence of seniors as "e-patients" and the potential of technology to empower them and improve their health.

For example, the authors point out, video-enabled telehealth services provide a critical service for aging adults--the ability to receive care at home, without having to travel. It particularly will be valuable for seniors who are located in hard-to-reach areas, and for whom traveling to health clinics is a major obstacle to obtaining care.

The report particularly notes remote monitoring as a key technology for supporting aging at home. In particular, it points to the potential for "smart pills" to allow physicians to evaluate and monitor internal body processes remotely, and perhaps even diagnose disease while patients remain at home.

Online health websites also are emerging as powerful tools for aging adults working to manage multiple conditions, according to the authors. They say that about 75 percent of e-patients with a chronic condition indicate they've used Internet information to help with health decision-making; just under 70 percent of e-patients say their online searches have identified new questions that they've put to their doctors. Still, seniors may need help to optimize their use of the web, though, the researchers say.

Smartphones and other mobile devices "can help prevent isolation and neglect and also improve overall patient-provider communication," as well, the researchers say. They point to reminder systems like Trumpia, which prompts seniors to take their meds, and also highlight the Sensei Wellness app and its "personalized digital support, tracking, and feedback of users' health-related activities to encourage personal health surveillance."

The overall idea: If seniors want to age in place, they'll need mobile tools to keep them connected to their clinicians, and to their own changing health status.

Meanwhile, a pair of studies in another publication--Games for Health Journal--explore the potential of gaming technology for seniors. The studies focus on how exercise-oriented games for seniors helps improve health and extend life, according to a report at PsychCentral.

"The elderly often forsake their lifelong activities in exchange for the safety, security, and care of institutional living," journal editor-in-chief Bill Ferguson tells PsychCentral. "This trade-off need not require the sacrifice of physical activity and fitness. Furthermore, video games offer an escape from routine. All of these benefits can improve the well-being of elderly adults."

The article also points to physical and speech therapists using gaming to engage and motivate patients.

To learn more:
- read the PCD article
- check out this post from PsychCentral

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