Japan has one of the fastest growing elderly populations — a phenomenon that has created a pressing need for technology that can aid caregivers and autonomous seniors. Aging isn’t cheap: in Japan, the cost of healthcare for the elderly is expected to reach almost $300B by 2025, while in the U.S. medicare spend exceeded $590B in 2016, and is expected to reach the trillions by 2026. To help offset these costs, some tech companies, particularly in Japan, have developed systems to reduce the burden on caregivers by making the elderly more autonomous. The NewtonX healthcare vertical recently conducted executive interviews with some of the world’s top leaders in elderly healthcare tech. The data and insights in this article are sourced both from these interviews and from other surveys/analyses conducted by the NewtonX health vertical.
From Ultrasonic Bladder Sensors to Smart Bed Monitors: What the Future of Elderly Care Looks Like
On average, the U.S. spends over $25,000 annually per person in their 90s, and 80% of this cost comes from caregiver/nursing home expenses. To address the costs of caretaking, startups have developed smart technologies to make caregivers more efficient and the elderly more autonomous.
For instance, DFree, a Japanese startup that raised $15M has created an ultrasonic bladder sensor that’s used in 150 nursing homes in Japan. The device alerts both the user and the caregiver when a patient needs to use the restroom — saving time and accidents. The company plans to expand to the U.S. in the next several years.
Another company called Z-Works, makes a hardware and software integrated IoT platform that has elderly care specific use cases that are used in nursing homes throughout Japan. The platform enables homes to equip the residents’ rooms with IoT devices that stream data to the caregivers’ station. The devices can monitor heartbeat, breathing, risk for falling off the bed, or mobility and speed.
These systems also allow for real-time communication with family members, which can be particularly important for those with part time caregivers. As we recently wrote, both Apple and Amazon (through Alexa) have recently moved into the healthcare space, and elderly care is one of the primary use cases for both companies. The Alexa app platform already has apps from the Mayo Clinic and Libertana, which can be used to communicate hands free with caregivers, and can send alerts in emergencies. Additionally, Alexa could serve as a hub for the increasingly popular telemedicine industry (see our article on the subject here), and could provide a seamless experience between telemedicine and pharmaceutical services (such as PillPack). This would lower costs and decrease reliance on in-person geriatric services.
The Aging Algorithm: Why Smart Aging Tech Will Gain Momentum
During the 20th century alone the total number of humans grew from 1.65B to 6B. Now, we’re on track to hit 8B people by 2024, and the average life expectancy in first world countries is also rising. If tech for elderly care does not advance at the rate that elderly populations are, we will be unable to provide adequate health care to one of our largest groups of people.
Because governments shoulder much of this cost, they are motivated to work with startups and tech companies to implement scalable solutions to help decrease reliance on caregivers. Additionally, consumer-facing products like Alexa can tap into a growing population and that populations’ relatives.
Aging is a product of living. Companies that address this process will find a large market, not only of current users, but also of future ones.