AMC Health Blog

Can Telehealth Change Housing Options for Seniors?

By: Jonathan Leviss, MD

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My mid-70s parents are trying to decide what their next home should be.  Both are physically independent and active, still work three days a week, and neither has any major medical problems, but they know this could all change quickly.  If their health deteriorates, their current living situation would be rather difficult.

A real challenge for my folks and other seniors seems to be finding a place that appeals to active people and also offers general support services plus healthcare when needed. Today, there are many places that make home maintenance and daily living easier, in both suburban and urban environments, but few offer healthcare services like nursing or supervised clinical care (they say moving in with their son the doctor doesn’t count—they’re smart).  Do they need “elderly housing” with independent, apartment-style residences plus optional assisted living services like dining or nursing care, so that as they need more care and support it is available?

Can they find a living arrangement that would meet their healthcare needs without sacrificing space to display their art collection or photos of our large family, access to restaurants, cultural centers and wooded walking trails, or room for their kids and grandkids to visit and sleepover?  Could they find this in a city, which would offer the benefits of museums, theater, and ample options for food delivery and cleaning services? Or would the option to move in with my family or my brothers in the suburbs be a viable one, as we could help with daily living needs and then they could see their grandkids regularly?

Adding clinical care to any desirable home could be as simple as providing a few remote patient monitoring devices and a smart-phone to connect virtually to a healthcare team.  Right now, real-time virtual care teams help people with a range of health issues, assist with complex medication regimens, monitor diabetes and heart failure, supervise wound healing, and track blood pressure, heart rate, and other basic needs of acute and chronic health conditions.

What if we offered these services to any home in the United States, or around the world?  Suddenly, every full-service building in a major city or even those in the suburbs offers help carrying groceries plus managing diabetes, someone to change lightbulbs or repair plumbing and a skilled clinical care team to monitor heart failure, constant family interaction plus on-demand telehealth visits with a physician.  A better connection to a care team no longer requires a move—seniors can get help to stay healthy or manage chronic health conditions wherever they choose.

US Census data shows that by 2012, we had over 45 million people aged 65 years or over and by 2050 that number will almost double.  As this population explores different places and ways of living independently, instead of limiting their options and requiring them to relocate to places that offer healthcare, let’s bring the health care they need to them.  Let’s start doing that now.

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