Long before COVID-19 changed the world, US was dealing with an emerging elderly crisis marked by caregiver demand increasingly outstripping supply.
The math is simple. Approximately 10,000 baby boomers retire every day and there aren’t enough caregivers to support them. By 2030, approximately 20 million more seniors will retire and begin to need outside assistance to help them age safely, and with peace of mind. The pandemic is shining a bright spotlight on this problem.
Isolation & Health Impacts
Caregivers come in many forms; they can be family, friends, or professional help. In normal times, this support network operates a delicate patchwork of services designed to ensure that seniors are kept safe and have daily needs fulfilled with food, medication, doctor’s visits, and social interaction.
Beyond the tangible needs of daily life, seniors face the equally daunting challenge of physical isolation, a problem greatly magnified due to COVID-19. Due to heightened risk of age and pre-existing conditions, seniors are by necessity the population group greatest at risk for complications.
As a result, visits with family, engagement with friends at senior centers, and adult day care services are now tremendously limited. And given the unknowns and current evolution of the disease, there’s the very real possibility that seniors will need to be careful and continue to isolate for many months to come.
This all comes at a significant cost to mental health. Surveys have shown that up to 43% of adults over the age of 60 experience loneliness on a regular basis.4 What’s more, studies in recent years indicate a direct relationship between loneliness and cognitive decline, an increased risk of stroke, and even premature death.
According to some researchers, the impact of persistent loneliness may be more impactful on health than obesity, equivalent to smoking as many as 15 cigarettes a day.
Medical Alert Meets Tech
Seniors cannot be left behind, and very real solutions are needed at scale to address this problem. Medical Alert companies are approaching this challenge in innovative ways. They traditionally offer small, lightweight devices which were originally designed to help someone connect with professional medical services during an emergency. You press a button, a trained operator comes on the line to assess the situation, and immediate help is deployed when necessary, either via first responders or caregivers.
Made more important by COVID-19, providers continue to evolve their services to specifically address the problem of isolation.
AT&T and LifeStation got together to understand how remote connection services might mitigate the challenge. Through LifeStation user studies, they discovered:
54% of seniors say that even a short conversation each day improves their overall wellbeing7
80% of LifeStation customers report feeling more connected to others with a medical alert system
Over 90% of button activations to a centralized monitoring center are non-emergency, “Peace of Mind” conversations
Expanding the Social Network
LifeStation leveraged these insights to craft new services, based explicitly on social connection and daily needs. Powered by AT&T’s 4G LTE cellular connectivity, LifeStation medical alert users can use their button to directly gain access to:
Weekly Wellchecks – Proactive calls to customers provide a friendly voice, offer a critical needs assessment, deliver resources to stay safe and healthy, and aim to improve physical and emotional well-being.
CareAssist – Concierge service that connect customers with the services they need, including transportation (in collaboration with Uber Health), pharmacy, urgent care, building management/housekeeping, groceries.
Building a Platform for the Future
At the heart of this infrastructure is AT&T’s cellular technology. The 4G LTE powered network provides a nationwide platform to support these novel programs. Several keys to success include:
Coverage for the increasing number of seniors who don’t have a traditional landline
The LTE-powered equipment is much simpler to install than landline or Wi-Fi versions
Plug-n-Play – setup in minutes
With cellular connectivity and up to 5-day battery life, service is available during power outages
The challenge of senior isolation is not going away anytime soon. It will take a persistent, long-term commitment to innovation in order to address this issue.