About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors?
Essay response by William Cwik
An NPR story in 2011 stated that 100 people die each day from drug overdoses, most of which are preventable where patients, doctors and pharmacists all share some blame. The deaths occur from accidentally taking too many pills because the person forgot when they last took the medications, from drug interactions because neither the pharmacist nor the doctor knew the other medications the person was taking or from accidental overdose because the person developed dependency to strong pain killers or other addictive medications.
This is significant because in looking at the experience of adult children caring for their aging parents, I found that regardless of all other factors such as level of health, lifestyle and independence, each of the aging parents I came across were prescribed medications. The abilities of the aging parents ranged from completely independent to fully dependent on their adult children, but only one didn’t have a problem taking medications appropriately themselves.
One woman has been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy and was prescribed a medication. Most of the time she takes less than she is supposed to, says it doesn’t work and stops taking it. This leaves her suffering in pain with her condition. Her son feels that she will get relief as long as she takes it as prescribed and at the correct times, but he has no control over this since she lives independently.
Another person wrote a long list of all the conditions her mother suffers from, some of which include congestive heart failure, angina, nausea and vomiting. To relieve the angina, her mother was prescribed nitroglycerin pills that must be taken at certain times of the day and can’t be chewed. She found out her mother was actually taking many nitroglycerin pills at once. One side effect of nitroglycerin is nausea. As her mother is already suffering from nausea, this condition is exacerbated with the use of the nitroglycerin being taken incorrectly.
Medications also are important for the adult child. Many adult children use the pills to check that the parent is taking care of themselves. If pills are not being taken, this can be used as a strong indication that the aging parent may need additional assistance or, perhaps may even need to move into a nursing home or have a caregiver. A technological solution in these instances can help seniors maintain their independence.
Medications can also become a source of conflict. Like many people, one person I read about doesn’t live near her parents but it has become her responsibility to pick up the prescriptions, count the pills and put them into the weekly pill containers. This is time consuming in both the travel and in counting the pills and she is sacrificing her own job and family to deal with the medications. This creates tension not only with her mother but also other family members.
The implication for healthcare industry is that there is a need to solve the problem created by trying to manage medications. The market is not just the aging parent that must take all of the pills. The driving force can be the adult child who often times bears the responsibility of preparing the pills and can also be informed through a smart phone app as to when and if the pills were taken. There is potentially a bigger market that the solution may appeal to. A Mayo Clinic study in 2009 found that 70% of Americans were prescribed at least one medication in that year.
The solution to the pill problem is through management of administering the medications, communication with the adult child about the use of the medication and simplification of the process of preparing the pills, all of which support the adult child in caring for their aging parent. Products utilizing technology to address these issues already exist but even the most sophisticated still have the problem of needing to be manually loaded. For a month’s worth of medication this can be very time consuming, especially for people taking five or more medications. Those with connectivity to family are using phone lines. A better solution would be to manage pills automatically much like a printer has cartridges of ink that are dispensed when called for in printing. These devices would be connected to the internet which would communicate with family or caregivers through an app showing when pills are taken and how many are left. Internet connectivity can also provide a check on drug interactions that may be missed by doctors and pharmacists.
William is currently a graduate student at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design.