Is Tech the Answer to the Health Care Labour Shortage for Older Adults?


It's exciting to read about some of the new products and systems coming into the market aimed toward aging in place and senior care, but there are still huge gaps in deployment. Photo: Mark Vancleave/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.


Lori Orlov, whose blog is my go-to source of news and insights into the technology and aging, offers up, as usual, some exciting new examples of what’s going on.

In this post, she highlights five new products/services that combine sensors with AI, and that could help alleviate the shortage of health-care workers for older adults. As she points out, “There are simply not enough workers to care for aging boomers and beyond. This spells opportunity for motion and camera-based sensors that are being deployed for care of older adults.”

Her examples are certainly interesting. Here are just a few highlights, but I urge you to read the entire article and explore the details further.

PeoplePower This system uses passive in-home sensors that do not require cameras or wearables. “Advanced machine learning and AI services are applied to learn individualized lifestyle patterns privately and securely within each home.” This can connect to real-time AI assistant services.

Labrador Systems This uses 3D visual simultaneous localization (SLAM) combined with depth sensors and bumpers to help retriever robots carry out fetching tasks.

VirtuSense This combines sensors and predictive AI to allow physicians, caregivers and families to be proactive and patient-centric.

SensorsCall This system uses sensors with AI to monitor environmental factors like motion, temperature, humidity, air quality, light and sound to deduce action and alert physicians and caregivers. Machine learning continually makes the system smarter, enabling alerts on depression detection, medication verification, recovery measurement and more.

Kalogon’s Smart Cushion This “smart” cushion continually adapts to the needs of the user, “giving people the ability to sit longer and pursue activities they were unable to do before.”

You read about these products — and what seems like a constant stream of others that Lori identifies — and you can get the feeling that there’s nothing to do but stand up and cheer.’

But at the same time, there are serious challenges around the rate of adoption and deployment, particularly in institutionalized settings. And Lori is all over this topic as well, as she reports here. Read the details, but here is the money quote:

“In the past decade, there has been much talk (and media) about technology innovation in senior care. But is the commitment to investing in technology still sporadic? Is it just isolated to a demo of VR here, a few robots there, a free pilot of voice tech for those with high enough broadband speeds to benefit? Is it possible that you will still find buildings where there is no Wi-Fi access in resident rooms, only in common areas or hallways?

And who helps the resident with tech? Watching this space for at least a decade, is IT staff support still limited, remote, or long-distance? Is it probable that low-paid staffers are the only people who can help elderly residents with their smartphones, if they have them? Is it still likely that pull cords are still the only mechanism in the most expensive communities for a resident to reach the front desk in an emergency? Is it still likely that RPM and remote monitoring technology is not deployed anywhere in the community? Is it likely that memory care locked unit doors still send blaring alarms if a resident walks through a door? If management is just starting to think about technology investment in July 2022, no amount of consolidation and renaming of communities is going to hide the fact that for the care of older adults, the industry is a day late and a dollar short.”

Amen. We can all fall into the trap of falling in love with the latest tech — because so much of it is substantive and potentially transformative — but the nasty little details about how many people are using it, and who can afford it, and how long it will take for adoption to scale up, should always serve as a reality check. I value Lori Orlov’s cool appraisals and refusal to get carried away, and you can be sure I will keep drawing on her knowledge and sharing it with you.

David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.