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November will matter for Caregivers, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and more

When is a month not just another calendar page? Thanksgiving is not the only festivity in November. It’s the month when PR agencies get to do what they do best – publicize, generate awareness, mobilize media coverage, also known as free content. There’s the laundry list of days to consider.  While October was pretty full of health observance dates, November is also impressive. There's Purple Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month (5 million Americans) not to be confused with World Alzheimer’s Day held September 21 (46 million globally). It’s also National Family Caregiver’s Month (90 million family caregivers) and National Diabetes Month (29 million) and World Diabetes Day (371 million worldwide). Now you see those numbers, now you are aware.

We are an increasingly connected "awareness" world.  So you could be a family caregiver of an older adult who has both diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The cost of caring for yourself, for a family member adds up to large amounts nationally -- diabetes was estimated to cost the US health system $245 billion in 2012 and Alzheimer’s, estimated care provided by family was nearly $218 billion in 2014 and cost the healthcare system another $200 billion.  So let’s assume that if you are involved with either of these caregiving categories, you were already aware, your family members are aware of both issues and the cost toll (financial and health). So how does this awareness-to-fundraising impact the disease categories themselves? Well, not too much if we're starting with Alzheimer’s. And the population that’s living longer may be living with both Alzheimer's and Diabetes. 

So what are the advances in technology that can help family caregivers?  With all of this content about awareness (which enables fundraising, publicity), does spending on awarenes relate to useful technologies in the various categories? It is not apparently part of the awareness days, even though it could help mitigate issues of caregiving, not to mention issues associated with Alzheimer’s and Diabetes. So then what’s new in technology for any of the three? Tech was a topic in 2014 for caregiving research. As for actual tools/tech, not much appeared at or after CES 2015, despite a fair amount of post-CES noise, judging by a search for technology caregiving 2015.  For Alzheimer’s, technology as described in the media is still focused on wander management and startups that offer geofencing and social engagement technologies that pre-date 2015. For diabetes, it’s a bit faster-moving, with innovations in both portability and communication through smartphones.

Next year, what about a half-day that celebrates tech innovations? While there may be quite a bit happening behind the above search results, it’s not clear how caregivers will learn about it unless reporters deem it to be cool when they stroll through the upcoming CES show floor in January. And even then, so much of CES is literally just for show, transforming much later, if at all, into an offering; maybe that will fit within the promised health category which is matched to a real need; and something useful is finally released months later.  For those of you out there who are part of the upcoming awareness days to be held in the month of November, why not ask the organizers to boost awareness in 2016 of helpful technologies related to the topics -- considering and promoting tools or tech-enabled services that could be useful to those caregivers.


There are players in the aging-in-place and residential care support markets, but there are some good reasons why they have made little impact. Solutions are in silos. Pill dispensers and door alarms help with specific problems, but together do not reduce the number of caregiver hours or impact of caregiver burden. In silos, no one device captures enough of the individual's activities to identify impending adverse events. We lack predictive algorithms even for research instrumented homes that collect continuous data. In the end, few companies or engineering departments have the broad range of expertise needed to impact this area of cognitive decline. It is a complex multidisciplinary problem that wil not be solved simply by building a better health monitoring gizmo. I have seen handsome iPad solutions that seek to be placed in the home. They are thoughtful, but do not come anywhere close to addressing the needs of those with cognitive decline, their caregivers or the societal need to keep individuals out of residential care.

Andrew Mitz from LinkedIn

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