By Eugene Spiritus, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
While smart phones, computers and tablets have allowed people to better see and communicate with each other over distance, the arrival of the VGo telepresence robot has added a new dimension to aging in place.
Tools such as VGo will be increasingly valuable as the American population ages. According to the AARP, 90% of people over the age of 65 would prefer to remain in their own residence as they age. Many Baby Boomers must now take on the role of caregiver for aging parents or provide economic support in the form of paid caregivers. A recent study suggests that by 2026 there will not be enough caregivers, paid or unpaid, to support the growing population of seniors.
By looking at seniors who have been able to remain in their homes, research suggests that success in remaining in one’s residence in old age is usually a function of being able to successfully manage illness, avoid accidents and injuries, and maintain communication with friends and family. Also, according to a survey by AARP, a majority of seniors said it was important to stay involved and continually learn.
In his book The Creative Destruction of Medicine, Eric Topol talks about the “new medicine.” It results from the convergence of wireless sensors, genomics, imaging, information systems, mobile connectivity, the Internet, social networking and computing power. While the future holds great promise for “individualized medicine,” the question remains: Are there now technologies and approaches for seniors who may not be technologically sophisticated?
Technologies are available and affordable that capitalize on smart phones and the Internet to collect and store data such as weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep efficiency and oxygen level. Most of these can be done with little or no understanding of technology. Even more valuable are websites that allow elders to learn from others and track any illness.
Seniors with chronic disease may take more than 10 medicines a day and consequently are more prone to errors that may lead to disability or death. There are now a number of e-tools available including simple pillboxes, complex organizers with dispensers and alarms, vibrating watches, and smart phone apps with reminders. Recently the FDA approved a system that uses a small sensor to track pill taking and send the information to a smart phone.
VGo, because it is a lightweight, affordable robot that is controlled remotely from either a laptop computer or iPad, allows caregivers and family members to visit and interact with elders from across town — or anywhere in the world that has a high-speed Internet connection or Verizon 4G. This telepresence robot has been shown to be an effective tool in the period after hospital discharge, to ensure care plans are being carried out and to have close follow-up without requiring the patient to leave home.
The VGo is being widely accepted by patients, family members and care providers, because it offers a cost-effective means of follow-up, engagement and social interaction.