If necessity is the mother of invention, crisis may be the father of adoption. Nowhere has the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic been felt more strongly than on seniors and the disabled. The need for social distancing has made clear the value of technology for bridging that distance.
“COVID-19 has accelerated the need for family members, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to have remote access to seniors as well as the disabled,” said Laura Mitchell, CEO of GrandCare systems, a leader in the aging and technology industry. “There has always been interest in technology tools among forward-thinking senior communities and home health care agencies, but since the pandemic, we have been inundated with calls and requests for video chat, telehealth capabilities and activity monitoring. Suddenly the value of these tools for the well-being of seniors and disabled people has become very concrete, very measurable.”
Mitchell was interviewed by host Karen Jagoda on a recent podcast hosted by Empower Patient Radio. In the episode entitled “COVID-19 Driving Faster Adoption of Telehealth for Aging Population,” Mitchell discussed the effects of COVID on senior housing and care services, and the tools that can help residents stay connected with family and friends, engaged and active, and healthy.
Empowered Patient Radio is a series of podcasts that focus on the latest innovations in digital health and the changing dynamic between doctors and patients. The audience includes medical professionals, researchers, patient advocates, entrepreneurs, patients, caregivers, solution providers, students, journalists, and investors.
Listen to the podcast: COVID-19 Driving Faster Adoption of Telehealth for Aging Population with Laura Mitchell GrandCare
View the transcript: Download transcript
Check out the entire podcast series: Empowered Patient Radio
COVID-19 has turned aging and senior housing on its head. Social isolation, lack of health care works, and the fear of going to the hospital are a few of the unexpected challenges faced by seniors during the pandemic. But there are tools that can help seniors stay connected and healthy during these challenging times.
“We have been inundated with calls and requests for video chat, telehealth capabilities and activity monitoring,” said Laura Mitchell, CEO of GrandCare Systems, a pioneer in the aging and technology market, and maker of technology for senior monitoring, wellness and engagement. She was featured on a recent podcast, to talk about best practices for seniors and their families, homecare providers, senior housing communities, and the impact of COVID on the aging industry.
Mitchell and co-hosts Ed Wenck & Walt Zerbe discussed these and other issues of aging in place, aging in congregate living, and how seniors can thrive even in this time of COVID. The podcast, called “Living in Place and the Pandemic,” is part of the The CEDIA Podcast series of roundtable discussion on issues surrounding new and emerging technology.
I was so worried about my dad. He’s pretty independent at 78, but he struggles with a few health issues and a month ago he had a scary fall. He kept forgetting to take his medication and it’s dangerous for his blood pressure. I live 40 minutes away. I checked on him all the time, but he wouldn’t always hear the phone and it drove me crazy. That’s when we found GrandCare.
It’s a big touchscreen he calls his “window to us.” My kids message him and video chat right from the GrandCare app on their phones. I sent him pictures of our new house and I added some old nostalgic ones of him and my mom when they were younger. He doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on our lives, and my kids are a lot more connected with their granddad.
Dad thinks it’s phenomenal. It’s really helped with his depression. He’s smiling and laughing again. His favorite features are the weather reports and watching old shows on YouTube. And if he forgets to take his medication, the system reminds him right on the touchscreen. If he doesn’t see it, he’ll get an automated text message.
GrandCare reminds him to take his blood pressure every day, and then tracks it so I can be sure he’s doing okay. I have Dad bring the graphs with him to his doctor, too.
He’s still in his house. He’s still independent. And we all finally have some peace of mind.
My dad calls it a “gift from God.” I do too.
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*For HIPAA and security purposes, names and identifying details in this story have been changed.
Today, GrandCare welcomes guest blogger and elder advocate Richard Wright. Thanks for sharing these tips with us, Richard.
For seniors, getting more sleep might just help reduce chronic pain associated with some ailments, including back aches and headaches. According to a study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, getting extra sleep regularly sleep provided relief for patients compared to those who didn’t get as much.
That’s not to say you should be sleeping your entire day away. Dr. Thomas Roth, senior scientist of the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at the hospital is quoted as saying, “If you are already sleeping eight hours a night, you probably don’t need more sleep. If you spend six hours in bed each night, spend eight – preferably nine.”
Below are some tips for seniors to help them get more sleep at night.
1. Adjust Your Position
With specific regard to back pain, adjusting the position in which you sleep can make all the difference in the world. It’s best to consult a doctor about this and how it relates to the specific issue you have, but some find sleeping on their side with their knees pulled up a bit can help. Sleeping on your stomach should be avoided if possible. If sleeping on your back, it can help to place a pillow under your lower back and another under your knees.
2. Avoid Screens Before Bedtime
To sleep better at night, it’s a good idea to turn off any screens at least an hour before going to sleep. That includes televisions, smartphones, tablets, and backlit e-readers. E-readers and tablets are popular gifts for seniors who like to read, but as convenient as they can be for pre-bedtime reading, you’re better off with a good, old-fashioned paper book or magazine in those late hours, or at least an e-reader that requires a separate light source for use.
3. Limit Naps
It’s a good idea to skip naps entirely for a good night’s sleep, but we’re only human. Sometimes a nice chair-nap comes on whether we want it to or not, especially as we get older. If you can, it’s best to limit naps to no longer than twenty or thirty minutes. If a nap is needed, the earlier in the day the better. A late-afternoon or evening nap is bound to keep you up come bedtime.
4. Diet For Sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, chances are there are some major dietary adjustments you should make. Foods that can help you sleep include:
- Tart cherries
- Whole grains
- Certain kinds of tea, including chamomile and passion fruit
There are also foods you’ll want to avoid, especially close to bedtime. Foods to skip include:
- Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
- Foods and drinks high in sugar
- Foods and drinks that can produce heartburn and acid reflux, such as tomato sauce and orange juice
5. Adjust Your Bedroom
There are several ways in which you can turn your bedroom into a better environment for good sleep:
- Get rid of the TV so you’re not tempted to watch it ahead of bedtime.
- Put your alarm clock where it’s not visible to you in bed. The glow can keep you awake.
- Make sure the room is dark and cool.
- Choose the right colors for your walls. Blue, yellow, green, silver, and orange seem to work the best for helping people maximize their sleep, according to at least one study.
When most people think about easing pain, they tend to think of medication, but some simple changes to your lifestyle to help you sleep better may be a good place to start.
GrandCare Systems is a caregiving tool designed to reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes by enabling designated family members, caregivers and healthcare professionals to remotely care for an individual in a residence, regardless of geographic location. The heart of GrandCare is a large touchscreen in the residence, which provides the individual with social communications, instructions, reminders and medication prompts.
Wireless activity sensors monitor daily activities without impeding on a resident’s independence or privacy. These sensors can help you know whether the resident is getting the valuable sleep he needs. You can also see graphs that help you see important information, such as whether sleep patterns have changed, if the resident has stayed in bed in bed longer than usual, or whether he has had a restless or restful night.
Richard Wright is an advocate for the ever-growing elderly population in the US. He helped create ElderCorps.org in an effort to help provide the aging population and their loved ones with resources to help them live safe, healthy, and happy lives. In his free time, Richard enjoys fishing and playing golf.
“Technology can help families monitor the health and safety of older people kept from their families by the coronavirus,” according to the New York Times. In a story by Susan B. Garland, GrandCare was highlighted as a tool that helps seniors stay “fiercely independent” while providing their adult children with peace of mind.
In the story, titled “Did Mom Take Her Medicine? Keeping Eyes on Elders in Quarantine,” GrandCare customer Norman Potter explained why he purchased a GrandCare for his mother. According to the story:
“In mid-March, as the coronavirus was spreading, Mr. Potter installed a platform made by GrandCare Systems in his mother’s house that she enjoys using to video chat with her grandchildren — but of equal interest to her son are its motion sensor and two vital-sign devices.”
“Because of his mother’s respiratory issues, Mr. Potter said he and his sister were not comfortable visiting unless they were first tested for the coronavirus, although two people who live nearby check on her. ‘The monitoring allows me a sense of peace that she is up and starting her day,’ he said.”
GrandCare integrates with telehealth devices, such as blood pressure monitors, weight scales, pulse oximeters, and glucometers, and wirelessly transmit the readings from the device to the GrandCare. The story explains:
“Mr. Potter can log into a portal to view the results, which are delivered via a wireless connection in his mother’s house. If either level is out of whack, Mr. Potter, who owns a home health agency, receives a text. When his mother’s oxygen levels dropped one day, Mr. Potter called to remind her to insert the nasal tube that connects to her oxygen supply device. He also is notified if a motion sensor in the hallway that leads from her bedroom to the kitchen does not detect movement after 10 a.m., her usual waking time.”
“I feel comforted knowing that they are watching over me.” – Esther McKee
Another GrandCare client, Esther McKee, has used and enjoyed her GrandCare for eight years. She especially enjoys the ease of video chatting with her children and grandchildren.
Before the pandemic, Esther McKee, 79, went to church, volunteered and visited with friends and two daughters who live nearby. Now, she said, she “would not have my sanity” without the video-chat feature on the GrandCare system she has had for eight years.
By pressing a name on the touch screen, Ms. McKee, who lives alone in a two-bedroom apartment in a 55-plus community in West Bend, Wis., can see any of her three daughters, six grandchildren and many nieces. Nearly every weekday at noon, she and a daughter who lives in Florida eat lunch together by their screens.
McKee also enjoys the peace of mind in knowing that her loved ones will know if she needs help. Her system includes motion sensors in several rooms, and door sensors on her front door and refrigerator.
“I feel comforted knowing that they are watching over me,” she said.
Arguably the segment of our society that has most strongly felt the impact of COVID-19 is in the aging services industry. Almost overnight, senior housing communities and in-home care providers realized they had an urgent need for virtual technologies, telehealth, virtual caregiving, and video conferencing, to help their residents remain sheltered in place. To help organizations understand, plan, and make the best decisions, GrandCare announced the launch of a new webinar series this June titled, “Technology-Powered Caregiving.”
This informational 3-part webinar series will help you discover the latest and greatest products available to help you and your clients with social engagement, telehealth, remote activity monitoring, cognitive assist and family coordination technologies, with a specific focus on the disabled and older adult population. The series will cover issues such as how to choose technology platforms, the groundwork and infrastructure, if any, needed to get started, and best practices for successful integration into your existing workflow procedures.
Registration is required for these free webinar sessions, which include:
- June 18th: Technology-Empowered Living for People with Developmental Disabilities (12pm CT) Register
- June 26: Connected Residents & Telehealth Programming for Senior Housing and Long-Term Care Communities (11am CT) Register
- July 1: Virtual Caregiving & Telehealth In Professional In-Home Care. How, Why and ROI. (1pm CT) Register
“In a matter of months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, particularly how we perceive aging, healthcare and caregiving services,” said GrandCare CEO Laura Mitchell. “This webinar series will explore the various technology options from video chat to remote patient monitoring to telehealth visits. We will discuss how to implement, and we will have organizations speak about their own successful practices. We think you’ll find it invaluable.”
To many seniors, home hospital beds offer comfort, convenience, and safety that consumer beds cannot match. The head, foot, and height adjustments simplify the nighttime chores of getting into bed and arranging oneself in a comfortable or medically advised sleeping position.
To other seniors, a home hospital bed is a medical necessity. Without its adjustments and accessories, they would not be able to convalesce or receive treatment in their home. They would have no option but to stay in a hospital or care facility.
In both cases, seniors have to decide how to pay for their home hospital bed. Sophisticated adjustable beds with head, foot, height, and tilt power adjustments are more expensive than consumer-grade beds. The highest-quality beds may not be covered by health insurance and are not covered by Medicare, in which only a limited number of durable medical equipment suppliers participate. The availability of Medicaid for durable medical equipment varies from state to state.
The remaining options are to rent or to buy. Hospital bed suppliers are happy to sell directly to consumers. Hospital bed rental agencies exist across the U.S.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. In this article, we explore the pros and cons of buying and renting home hospital beds. Because funding a home hospital bed with health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid is so complex and variable, we’re going to focus purely on self-funded buying or renting in this article.
The Advantages of Buying a Home Hospital Bed
The most significant advantage of buying a home hospital bed is choice. When you buy, you are free to choose a bed that fits your requirements and budget.
You aren’t limited by the selection available in a rental agency’s catalog. You choose which adjustments the bed has, its design, and the accessories it includes. The best manufacturers customize beds for individual customers, offering even more choice.
Buying may cost less than renting over the long term. A home hospital bed costs several thousand dollars, and the upfront cost of buying is higher. But the upfront cost is all you pay. Renting a bed, in contrast, ties you to a contract with monthly payments that add up quickly. If a bed is rented for more than a few months, the total cost is likely to exceed the cost of buying.
When you buy a custom bed, it is your bed. That might seem obvious, but rental agencies limit how their beds are used and customized. A bed that you own is yours to do with as you please. You aren’t beholden to the restrictions and penalties that accompany a rental agreement.
The Disadvantages of Buying
In the previous section, we said that buying is better because it is cheaper over the long-term. That isn’t much of an advantage if you can’t afford to pay upfront. Renting allows people who need a home hospital bed to spread the cost over the lifetime of the bed, benefiting from features they would otherwise have to do without.
Buying is also less appealing for people who only need the bed for a short time. If a senior who is otherwise healthy needs an adjustable bed while they recover from an operation or injury, short-term rental may be the most economical option.
Buying offers more flexibility when initially deciding which bed you need. But, once you have bought the bed, you are stuck with your choice. For reasons of hygiene and health, bed manufacturers are rarely willing to take back a bed if you change your mind. When you rent, you’re free to return or exchange the bed once the initial rental period ends.
The Advantages of Renting a Home Hospital Bed
In addition to spreading the cost, renting is also useful if you want to try a bed before committing to a purchase. If you aren’t sure that a home hospital bed is a right choice for you or your loved one, renting gives you the flexibility to change your mind without a substantial financial penalty.
The Disadvantages of Renting
We have already mentioned that renting is less expensive in the short term but more costly in the long term. A rental bed of reasonable quality might cost $400 per month with a set-up fee of $100. An equivalent bed might cost $3,000 to buy. Rental payments exceed the cost of buying in around seven months.
The exact balance depends on the bed and how long it will be in service, but if you’re tempted to rent, it’s well worth working out how much it’s going to cost to rent compared to buying outright or even borrowing to buy.
Another limitation of renting is the quality and range of available beds. Beds are selected by rental agencies to maximize profit and minimize costs such as delivery and maintenance. Consequently, rental beds are rarely as sophisticated or feature-rich as those sold directly to consumers. Rental is unlikely to provide a home hospital bed with the best quality of manufacturing and range of features.
Finally, rented beds are not new beds. Unless you are lucky enough to be the first renter, your bed will have been used before, perhaps by many different patients. Rental agencies clean and disinfect beds before they are sent to a new renter, but the bed’s motors and mechanical components have a limited life and may wear out. Beds may also have damaged paint and other age and use related damage.
The decision to rent or buy depends on your circumstances and what you expect from your home hospital bed. Renting is an excellent option for seniors who need a bed immediately but who can’t afford to pay the full price. However, if you can pay upfront, buying gives you access to a greater range of beds with more advanced features and lower long-term costs.
Aaron Goldsmith is the Founder of Transfer Master, which manufactures custom electric adjustable hospital beds for home and medical use.
Telemedicine: More Than Just a Good Idea
As telemedicine was slowly finding its way into the mainstream, something important, something fundamental, has changed. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, is the change agent. As I write this, it remains to be seen what the full impact of it will be in the United States and across the globe. One thing seems certain, though: The meteor has hit. The dinosaur way of doing things is over. The idea that you can do long-term care, in-home care, or even family caregiving in private homes without technology is over. It may not change overnight, but make no mistake, a sea change is underway. I know. I talk to leaders in this space every day. It’s what I do. And I can assure you: telemedicine is now.
The hard data is there to illustrate my point: nearly half of physicians in the US are now using telemedicine, up from 18% in 2018. For many years the senior care industry has collectively, if grudgingly, agreed that remote monitoring and telemedicine was a Good Idea. But for most of the decision-makers it remained only that: an idea. There were always reasons – cultural, regulatory, financial – that made them hold off. Not all, mind you. There were always visionaries whose farsightedness led them to become early adopters. For everyone else it’s been a hard sell. Sometimes it’s just difficult to do things in a new way until you absolutely have to. But now, that time has come.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
Telemedicine in the Age of COVID-19
Prior to COVID-19, nearly 60% of the nation’s employers already covered telemedicine in their employee policies. Now, that number is set to grow. Absent new data on employers, we can already see the changes taking place with Medicare, which has now begun to cover an increased range of telehealth services for a wider client base.
Hopefully, in a couple of years, we’ll all be receiving our COVID shots and that will be that. But the damage will have been done. It’s already been done. Everyone who has had to face going to the bank, or shopping for groceries, or talking to a doctor – which is to say, all of us – will insist on it. Likewise, everyone who has tried and failed to FaceTime mom in her assisted living apartment during a lockdown, will insist on it. “The building’s WiFi doesn’t have great coverage in the residential areas” isn’t going to cut it any longer. You may now file that under “U” for unacceptable.
In fact, we may as well admit that there can be no point of care–not at home, not in congregate living, or anywhere else–without good internet service. Grandma will have WiFi. That question, and others, feel very settled now that the meteor has landed. So goodbye dinosaur ways. It’s time for some new thinking to emerge.
If you are considering in-home care for a loved one, you are undoubtedly concerned about COVID-19. Caregivers often take on multiple clients, presenting opportunities for spreading infection. Even with full-time care, unless you have a live-in caregiver, this means a person coming into your loved one’s home on a daily basis and often involves direct physical contact.
In-Home Care: A Costly Proposition
If you are researching in-home care, you likely already know it can be costly from an economic perspective, with hourly rates ranging from $14 to $24, depending on the market in your area. With the emergence of COVID-19, hiring in-home care could have a high human risk as well. There now exists a trade-off between minimizing economic costs (by reducing hours) and reducing risk. A part-time caregiver who goes from home to home on a daily basis presents an increased risk of infection to both their customers and themselves. This is also a challenge for professional caregiving organizations to maintain healthy caregivers.
Assisted Living vs. In-Home Care
Assisted living is often viewed as a viable alternative to reduce the financial costs associated with in-home care. However, this of course increases risk of infection due to the number of people living and working in the congregate setting. Few states have any regulations regarding staff-to-resident ratios and a typical assisted living scenario involves a great amount of resident to resident and resident to staff interaction in a given day.
Another point to consider, aside from safety, is the fact that most people prefer to not leave their own homes. In fact, according to an AARP study, 90% of seniors preferred to stay home and 80% believed they would remain at home for life.
Not to mention that removing individuals from familiar surroundings and routines can cause great anxiety.
Medical vs. Non-Medical Home Care
An important part of making this decision is understanding the various levels of care available, which could have substantial financial implications. If your loved one has recently been discharged from the hospital or has short- or long-term medical needs, then medical home care or home health care will likely be required.
Medicare, as well as private insurance, will pay for some services, like visits by nurses, and speech and occupational therapists. When discharged from the hospital, Medicare will pay for a nurse, occupational and speech therapist for the senior at home, but only according to a doctor’s prescribed plan of care.
However, many older adults without major medical issues just need an extra bit of support and daily reminders, such as remembering to take medications, hydration reminders and easier communications with loved ones. GrandCare not only facilitates these tasks, but can also allow you to monitor your loved one’s activities and vitals, including blood pressure, body temperature, pulse oximetry readings, weight, blood sugar levels, and more. With GrandCare, you may be able to reduce the risk for infection by safely monitoring and empowering a loved one with telehealth technology.
Technology to the Rescue
As technology continues to evolve and a new generation of seniors are becoming more comfortable interacting with digital devices, there is an opportunity to harness technology to help seniors age in place, staying at home for as long as possible. GrandCare envisions a future where all are able to remain independent and connected to family and friends. We provide a full telehealth, activity monitoring, video visit and communications platform for seniors. See how our product can help your loved one maintain their independence longer!
As a response to COVID-19, Medicare has expanded its coverage of telehealth services, effective March 6, 2020, which will cover even more services in a wider variety of settings for an expanded population. It’s no secret that the COVID-19 epidemic is having a disproportionate impact on elderly people, an already vulnerable population, provoking major anxiety for these individuals’ loved ones and caregivers. Adding to this stress is the fact that seniors see the doctor much more frequently, risking exposure every time they make one of these essential trips. To help seniors stay safe during this crisis, Medicare has implemented four key changes.
1. Access Telehealth Anywhere
Previously, Medicare would only pay for telehealth services for those residing in rural areas. Patients seeking telehealth services were required to travel to a local medical facility to virtually visit with a health professional in a different location. Although this enables better access to specialty care, this would still require transportation and a physical visit which can both be problematic, specifically for the aging population.
2. No More Telehealth Co-Pays
Generally, the standard Medicare copayment and deductible would apply to telehealth visits. In this case, as an incentive for seniors to utilize these covered telemedicine services, common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings are now available with no copay for those with Original Medicare. Therefore, telehealth and telemedicine technologies offer a safe and efficient opportunity for those on a fixed income to save money.
3. Expanded List of Telehealth Services
Before the pandemic, Medicare had covered 106 medical services via telehealth. Medicare has now added 85 additional services, including radiation treatment management, group psychotherapy, and speech/hearing therapy, to name a few. Have a look at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a full list of covered telehealth services.
4. No Need for Established Provider Relationship
Prior to COVID-19, patients were required to have a pre-existing relationship with a practitioner in order to be eligible for coverage under Medicare. Now, initial visits are covered as well. If a patient’s provider does not offer telemedicine services, this makes it easier to transition to a different provider who does.