Innovation

How IoT is empowering the elderly to become healthier and more productive

The elderly often struggle with using tech at home, but new advances in IoT for healthcare have huge benefits to this population. Here's how a digital diabetes platform addresses the issue.

While IoT is seeing an explosion—a recent Gartner report predicts $2 trillion in spending on IoT endpoints and services in 2017—there remains a huge obstacle: Many older adults still struggle with using the tech. According to Pew Research Center, navigating electronic devices is cited as a difficulty by most seniors, illustrating a disconnect between what tech can do and whether it can be used by the population it intends to help.

The company called GlucoMe is one example of a tech platform intended to ease use of personal health tech for seniors. GlucoMe, which was founded nearly five years ago, set out to help seniors treat diabetes, which is currently a world pandemic, and affects a quarter of Americans over 65, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Founders of the digital diabetes platform, Yiftah Ben Aharon and Dov Moran, "wanted to build a device we could use," said Ben Aharon. He said the two didn't intend to start a new company, but Moran, who has Type 2 diabetes, was building solutions for himself and realized it would be worth sharing.

"Even though the number of people with diabetes is increasing, the number of healthcare members, like doctors, nurses, dieticians, etc. can stay the same," Ben Aharon told TechRepublic.

The problem, he said, is that many patients have a very short time—even as quick as 10 minutes—per visit. That's not enough time for doctors to come up with adequate analysis and treatment plans, said Ben Aharon. "And sometimes it's even not based on data," he said. "It's just a personal insight that a patient has. Like, you know, 'Yesterday I remembered that I had those glucose levels, and I remember that about a month ago I felt bad.' That prevents proper diagnosis of the problem, and impedes efforts towards preventions."

GlucoMe wants to ensure that patients are, at the right time, connected with the right healthcare specialist—online. Here's more about the tech that makes it work.

High-tech sensors that connect to smart devices

By connecting to a device like a smartphone, the GlucoMe blood glucose meter is less expensive than options that connect to expensive devices, like IMT devices. Ben Aharon said the company didn't have to add a single hardware component to make this happen—instead, they have a technique that can transfer data on wireless. "It's kind of like the Shazam app, meaning that the device actually beeps the result to the smartphone and then the smartphone, using our own app, picks up the signal," he said. "So in less than a second, it sends the data to the smartphone and then the smartphone app can pick up the signal."

SEE: How tech can help seniors 'age in place,' save money, and be independent

Then, Ben Aharon said, the measurement is coded, and the data is sent to the smartphone. "It's a new approach for transmitting data," he said.

Also, the ability for older adults to see results on a screen with a large display, is a big benefit.

"They can see the result on a big screen, share it with their caregivers, if needed, and then make sure that their healthcare provider will have their data and be able to make a current intervention, if needed," said Ben Aharon.

A smart insulin pen, still under development, is like a syringe of the device, said Ben Aharon. Whenever you inject insulin, it sends the data to the smartphone, which means healthcare professionals can track compliance.

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Image: GlucoMe

"Making sure that you have the results of either your insulin shots or blood glucose measurement on your smartphone, and then on the cloud, is just the first part," said Ben Aharon. "It's about getting the data."

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Central communication hub in the cloud

The central feature is the use of a personal dashboard for the patient, with a personalized treatment plan. The steps are then sent to smart devices to notify patients when they need to inject insulin, for instance.

"It provides the healthcare team, not only the raw data, like the glucose reading or the insulin activity level," he said. "It provides everything that we collect from the patient. It actually provides them with all kinds analytic insights, diagnostics, and treatment plans."

It's a "patient-involved system," he said, that can crunch numbers based on the AI engine to deliver specific recommendations. It will say "the intervention will be to take those medications at that time, at that dosage, and that they should follow up in one week, two weeks, etc.," he said. Still, the physician remains the ultimate gatekeeper, and can override the system if necessary.

The entire model relies on the cloud. "You cannot count on the patient to manually input the data themselves," said Ben Aharon. "It's just too much of a burden. They won't do it. They gotta have device connectivity."

"Cloud-based services are the future," said Ben Aharon. The main challenge for patients, he said, is that they don't have a "data-enabled path."

"They are relying on going to the clinic, going to the medical assistant in the clinic, downloading the data on site. So you get the data from three months ago." This, he said, is the problem that GlucoMe, and solutions like it, are beginning to solve.

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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