Multiple technology solutions to support older adults have sprung up during the pandemic, while other extant technologies have seen a surge in interest and uptake, or have found new uses for their offerings.
Generations Now soon will launch a weekly column to track new and existing technologies that offer novel applications for older consumers. This first column features two new technologies and one newly refreshed one: Helping Hands, Goodpath and CarePredict@Home.
New ideas in tech often emanate from personal experience and the realization that tweaking an existing solution to create a better user experience could solve a common problem. Helping Hands came out of such an epiphany.
Jeff Miller, tech entrepreneur and CEO of Helping Hands Community, saw a CNN interview with a young woman in Bend, Ore., who was about to go grocery shopping when she heard someone in the store’s parking lot calling out to her from their car. It was an older couple, both in tears, afraid to enter the store to buy their weekly groceries.
Seeing this, Miller, who lives in San Francisco, thought of his own older parents, who live in Arizona, and whose only way of buying food or other provisions would be to go to the store. In California’s urban cores, people are accustomed to using UberEATS, Instacart and other delivery services, but that’s not the case where his parents live. And Miller’s mother, who has nobly navigated the life-long effects and treatments from rheumatoid arthritis, is immunocompromised. He felt powerless to help.
Miller did some math, and figured if one in three Americans are at high risk for COVID-19, it was an enormous problem not just now, and not just for older and immunocompromised people, but for society in general. Miller’s epiphany occurred in mid-March and, by the beginning of April, he had launched (with 150 volunteers who are part of a core team of developers, designers and engineers, plus marketing, recruiting and trust and safety functions) a community portal that connects people in need of services with volunteers who fulfill those needs and provide free home delivery.
An added benefit to Helping Hands that sets it apart (aside from its all-volunteer staff), is that its services are not limited to a certain geographic area: someone living in San Francisco, say, can order supplies for a parent living in Arizona. Miller sees this as a critical difference from other delivery services, considering the sometimes nascent tech abilities of the older demographic. Requests are filled by local volunteers, who work out payment arrangements directly with those who requested help, and deliver needed items to their doorsteps.
This is a multigenerational effort. Helping Hands volunteer shoppers and delivery people are in their “late 20s and early 30s—healthy, able and want to chip in, plus they now have the time to do so,” says Miller. “Whatever hours had been allotted to their social calendar are free and clear now, and they’re looking for ways to give back.”
Helping Hands recipients sign up for the service using an account creation and verification process via Facebook and Google. A volunteer reads a request and registers to accept it, which triggers a text message to both the recipient and the volunteer, who provides a phone number. The volunteer and recipient chat by phone, and then, after a level of trust is established, the recipient gives out their address.
Miller says that Helping Hands also stands out from existing volunteer-based food and medicine delivery services that are not easily scalable, due to their local nature and less efficient technology such as manual data entry or a phone tree–type set up. Helping Hands’ volunteer staff can write algorithms and code, setting up the possibility for huge scalability. And the organization is more than happy to share these tools with third parties. “With 100 million needing our help, anything we can do is all good,” says Miller.
Helping Hands also has partnered with other mutual aid organizations already supplying meals and medicines, helping to equip them with similar technological tools that would allow them run their businesses more effectively. In doing this, Miller figures Helping Hands can help the largest possible number of at-risk older adults.
The tools Helping Hands builds now could serve society long past the pandemic, but Miller expects to be occupied with COVID-19 for the next 12 to 18 months. “We need to get better and better long-term solutions for people who are at high risk, so they don’t have to take added risks. We are in 40 states and at a place where we are ready to scale and partner with advocacy organizations. It would be amazing to work with organizations like the Arthritis Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, and American Cancer Society to support the well-being of their members through this pandemic and beyond.”
The origin story for the CarePredict@Home Tempo Series 3 device ($499.99) is similar to that of Helping Hands, as it began with the CEO Satish Movva’s concern for his parents, and his disappointment with existing solutions—but the similarity ends there.
Movva’s parents live near him in Florida, and though they are independent, they have pre-existing conditions that require care. Movva had tried various Smart Home technologies to track their health from afar, including their food intake, activity levels and other indicators congruent with his parents’ daily life. But he wanted more continuous and accurate updates, as the technologies he was using would show him only that someone had opened the refrigerator, not who opened it or if they ate anything.
Movva created the Tempo Series 3 (launched in 2020), a watch-like device with a button elders can push that will automatically connect them to caregivers and which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to track and report on older adults’ movements. The device is used not only by older adults living independently, but also in assisted living settings and nursing homes.
If a person who usually gets up three times per night suddenly starts getting up five times, that might put them at risk for falls. Or if they are spending too much time in bed or on the couch, that might put them at risk for depression. As Subhashree Sukhu, CarePredict’s marketing director, said, “Previously, [before Tempo] the only reliable way to gather such information would have been to sit at home and watch Mom. And even then, you wouldn’t know if she was eating 30 percent less than she did last week.”
But with the Tempo’s machine learning, after a week or two, it has gathered all known patterns in the older adults’ life and can instantly alert caregivers to any deviations. “This is what allows the caregiver, whether they are a professional or a family member, to access this information before something bad happens,” said Sukhu.
CarePredict has contracts with homecare companies like Right at Home, HomeWell and others. Homecare workers often use it when they are scheduled to caregive a few days a week, but would like to know how their clients are faring when they’re not on the job.
And the company has made forays into assisted living facilities, where it has discovered that the device has a dual function: not only does it track and predict elders’ habits, but when staff wear it, too, it tracks how long they spend doing which tasks. In addition, with the Tempo, staff can ascertain the level of an emergency by speaking with the resident wearing the watch.
During the pandemic, CarePredict has found that another capability of its Tempo monitor—location tracking—could be used on a large scale for contact tracing.
Contact tracing can be an onerous process involving multiple phone calls to figure out who has been where and, considering older adults’ potential memory issues, this might yield little or inaccurate information. The Tempo could be a simpler way to trace, potentially helping to stem the tide of infections raging across eldercare residential settings.
“We can’t waste time sitting down and interviewing people—it may work well— but we don’t have that luxury. With auto contact tracing, once we know a resident has tested positive, we can see who he or she may have infected, what type of contact they had, or if it was environmental—did they walk into the library, cough, touch books and leave? Then we can advise the assisted living facility about which types of disinfection protocols are required for a particular case.”
The response from caregivers, senior living facilities and even older adults has been overwhelming, says Sukhu. CarePredict soon will publish a paper on the outcomes from use of the device, which they have found reduced hospitalizations by 21 percent and falls by 31 percent. Older adults appreciate the rapid response to a button-push if they’ve fallen, and caregivers really like the two-way conversation capability. And nursing homes would clearly benefit from the contact tracing function.
Goodpath CEO Bill Gianoukos is looking to take on an entire sector of the healthcare industry. Gianoukos, a serial entrepreneur who is based in Boston and happens to be married to a physician, witnessed his mother’s journey through Stage-4 brain cancer and learned of the myriad inefficiencies in the U.S. healthcare system. He became concerned predominantly about the common ailments that plague many adults—conditions for which our nation’s medicalized healthcare system holds few answers.
“The people most underserved [by the healthcare system] are those with chronic conditions, which hinder their quality of life,” says Gianoukos. Goodpath is a platform that leverages an integrative health approach to treating serious chronic health issues. For now it is focusing on back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia. Generally, says Gianoukos, people with chronic back pain will visit a primary care physician, who has few tools to help, then see a specialist and get an MRI, but are never really empowered to manage their own care.
Goodpath chose these three chronic health conditions as they are prevalent in the United States population but are not being managed to foster an optimal quality of life. “Back pain is the fourth costliest part of health insurance following cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” says Gianoukos. “We’re really well-built to handle critical conditions, but the non-critical conditions—the healthcare system is not built for that.”
The Goodpath staff researched studies and outcomes that all pointed to an integrative method as the best way to manage these chronic conditions. Gianoukos said a local hospital in Boston did a nine-month study on an integrative health clinic and the outcomes were fantastic, measuring a ten-fold improvement in quality of life. But it’s a challenge for a brick-and-mortar health facility to work in this way, considering the number and types of staff required to implement this approach.
To begin treatment, a Goodpath client completes a lifestyle habits questionnaire, which uses machine learning and monitoring to produce a customized plan for that individual. The plan’s programs employ nutrition regimens and supplements, mindfulness practice and meditation, guidance and coaching, and fitness and lifestyle advice. To support their clients, Goodpath employs a cadre of 18 physicians, pharmacists, behavioral medicine specialists, psychologists, physical therapists, fitness trainers, dieticians and pain specialists on staff full and part time.
“We’ll ship you food based on your dietary restrictions (for instance an anti-inflammatory diet), teach you yoga online, have a personalized physical therapist help you to complete your online physiology exercises and combine all that with [the support of] a health coach,” says Gianoukos.
Goodpath leverages technology and automation and partnerships to bring the cost of the service to a reasonable level (packages start at $60 to $120). While Gianoukos admits that sending customers personalized prepared meals is costly, he also stresses that it’s valuable, as this encourages people to eat a healthier diet.
As it builds the operation up to scale, Goodpath will keep its overhead down, taking advantage of bulk-buying opportunities for purchasing food, and avoiding the costs of a brick-and-mortar location.
Gianoukos predicts that post-COVID-19, telehealth options such as Goodpath employs will continue to thrive, when compared to in-person office visits. “There’s something very comforting in being able to communicate with your doctor from home or when you need to,” he says.
States’ telehealth rules were relaxed with the advent of COVID-19, and Gianoukos assumes they may stay that way. Also, Goodpath is researching the lack of access to telehealth that currently exists in the United States, and is focusing on providing more help to those remote areas where telehealth remains a novelty. Gianoukos pointed out that even areas close to major metropolitan hubs, such as Western Massachusetts near Boston, no longer have the hospital density they used to, and are more likely to embrace telehealth solutions.
“This is the beginning of an industry change that will stay, [and] the technology will improve to offer better experiences for physicians, medical professionals and patients,” he says.