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Tech-enabled home care -- what is it, what should it be?

Who expects that most seniors will move to assisted living? Not that many. Our clues: # 1) one of the long-time thought leader consultants in senior housing, Ryan Frederick, is now involved in multi-generational housing development.  Or Clue # 2) Occupancy is unchanged in senior housing – still at 89% for the past three years. And don’t you just love the phrase 'inventory has outpaced absorption'? Or the next big challenge for senior housing – serving the middle class? And the profile of the resident in assisted living?  Clue # 3) The typical resident is an 87-year-old woman who remains for an average of 22 months.   Clue # 4) The net worth for folks aged 75+, presumably the feeder group for assisted living, inclusive of home equity, is $155,714.

As the caregiver support ratio worsens, there will be a shortage of in-home care workers.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected both the growing availability of home care jobs and the shortage of people to fill them. Some states will confront daunting shortages within the next few years: Minnesota will need to fill almost 60,000 direct-care and support positions by 2020, particularly as the state shifts funding toward care in the community rather than in nursing facilities. The problem is worse in Alaska – where many care workers are nearing retirement age themselves.  Over time, as AARP has predicted, the care gap will widen as boomer population ages into their 80’s – and their care needs catch up with them.  But during 2015-2016, new companies and partnerships emerged that demonstrate interest, if not yet achievement, of the efficiencies that tech-enabled home care may bring.   

Home Care and its underpinning technology seems to be surging.  You could not help but notice the frothy, near insane level of investment in home care and its related tech enablers. Everyone seems to want to play – and maybe some investors think that this is the 'on demand' or sharing economy, you know, Uber this and deliver-my-dinner that. How California is it?  But something else is happening.  After years of technology neglect and apathy, the home care industry has been the recipient of the equivalent of a technology two-by-four – and the spillover continues apace. Seems like just a few weeks ago, right after Honor got its new Thrive Capital infusion, Google Capital invested in Care.com, and then just this past week, ClearCare home care software company has just raised $60 million, which makes sense. At some point the new tech-enabled home care companies will need back office software that runs behind the cool-looking smartphone app.

What is tech-enabled home care – and what should it be?  This topic needs exploring over the coming months – and interviews with experts being scheduled. Let’s consider a few going-in assumptions. High quality tech-enabled home care leverages the use of technology, including smartphones, cloud-based software, location technologies, sensors and other base technologies. But surely tech-enabled home care looks more like a service than a piece of software or hardware. Surely it is more than an app, more than a portal for families, and more than a sensor, properly-placed. Tech-enabled home care will transcend automated check-in, check-on telephony. Surely it will include engagement technology that creates a social experience for caregiver, care recipient, family members, service providers.  So those are assumptions – what else?


Always surprises me how technology always seems to assume that all seniors will age at a high level of functional independence.  Yet, there is plenty of evidence that successful aging at home involves meeting the needs of people who need help with self-care and mobility.  So, not just "social experience" - let's use technology to improve the assistive devices that people use to get around, to bathe, to use a toilet or a toilet substitute.  If we want to improve the caregiving experience, we SHOULD be talking about that too!!

Peg Graham

You are absolutely right; all the talk about technology makes one think that tomorrow's older adult will not be the same as all those from generations past. They do as if the now and future senior can do it all themselves with all the electronic devises that are currently available or that will be invented by the young engineers who have no clue about the true aging process. Technology is only an aid which can glue together the many facets of service and care in a world were the support infrastructures can be chaotic.