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Advances in engineering and health science have brought a significant improvement in health care and increased life expectancy. As a result, there has been a substantial growth in the number of older adults around the globe, and that number is rising. According to a United Nations report, between 2015 and 2030, the number of adults over the age of 60 is projected to grow by 56%, with the total reaching nearly 2.1 billion by the year 2050 . Because of this, the cost of traditional health care continues to grow proportionally. Additionally, a significant portion of the elderly have multiple, simultaneous chronic conditions and require specialized geriatric care. However, the required number of geriatricians to provide essential care for the existing population is four times lower than the actual number of practitioners, and the demand-supply gap continues to grow . All of these factors have created new challenges in providing suitable and affordable care for the elderly to live independently, more commonly known as aging in place.
Prioritizing proactive care
The driving goal is to keep individuals, especially the elderly, healthy at home through proactive care, while also facilitating remote reactive care when needed rather than requiring frequent visits to the doctor. Proactive care can minimize the physical and mental stress associated with regular hospitalization for the elderly and significantly reduce the financial burden for both patients and the health-care system. Both proactive and remote reactive care can be enabled through continuous, holistic monitoring of the user’s health status, daily activities, and behavioral patterns with multimodal sensors in a naturalistic environment. The simultaneous application of both proactive and reactive care, in turn, can promote the use of diagnostic testing to avoid adverse medical outcomes and alleviate the burden on the user as well as the health-care system. In this regard, homes equipped with sensors and smart systems, also known as smart homes, designed for the benefit of the aging residents will enable both short-term monitoring for remote reactive care (e.g., monitoring cardiac activity in response to newly prescribed medication) and long-term monitoring for proactive care (e.g., tracking adherence to prescribed exercise routines or suggesting lifestyle modifications based on observed behavioral trends of the user).
By using wearable and environmental sensors, wireless sensor networks, and sensing devices that can monitor critical health parameters, we will be able to gather physiological and behavioral data continuously. The key lies in building intelligent, efficient algorithms that can provide valuable insights from daily patterns, e.g., from the changes in a user’s gait patterns or eating habits. The new algorithms could also enable predictions of future irregularities, allowing us to turn these predictions into actionable information impacting the quality of life and care delivery, while offering opportunities for adaptive interventions and personalized medicine.