How Technology Is Transforming Our Approach To Palliative Care

There are great strides being made in improving the way that people in palliative care can engage with the world                             

Caring for a loved one with a serious or terminal illness is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding, things that anyone can do. Caregivers are always searching for ways to alleviate suffering, or for ways to bring moments of joy to their patient’s day and to ease the burden they are carrying. Technology is making that a lot easier to do than ever before.

There have been some significant developments in palliative care and technology over the last few years. These are beginning to make a real difference in the quality of life of people who are seriously or terminally ill. The sense of being seen and empowered that patients experience with this technology is a joy to behold.

So, how has technology impacted palliative and hospice care?

Four Major Trends to Consider

Technological innovation has come to palliative care, and it is here to stay. During a brainstorm at the University of Colorado in Denver, participants were encouraged to think about the intersection of tech and palliative care. They identified four key areas that could have the most impact.

Independence: It’s crucial for patients to feel like they still have a sense of control over their lives and decision-making. Advances around smart homes and wearable devices can make the biggest difference in this area.

Telling Their Story: When you can shape the narrative around your life story, it begins to have a sense of meaning for you, and that’s very important. New media that is associated with technology can help patients shape their story and present it to the world.

Loneliness: The end of life can be a very lonely place to be, and not everyone is fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving family and friends. Technology can help people make connections and not feel so alone.

Communication with Caregivers: It’s not always easy for caregivers to stay in touch with their patients, particularly if they live far apart. New digital technology can be very useful in bridging this gap.

Palliative care and the idea of a hospice environment is growing in popularity every year as people recognize the need and value of quality end-of-life care.

“As a medical specialty, palliative care has grown by about 150% over the last decade and is available in over two-thirds of all U.S. hospitals,” according to the IEEE Pulse magazine. “While gaps in access remain, there was a continued increase in the number of hospital palliative care teams in the United States, with 67% of hospitals having 50 or more beds and 90% having 300 or more beds now being staffed with palliative care teams.”

As the idea of palliative care gathers steam, more and more technology is likely to offer solutions for the categories of trends that we have described. For seniors who are looking to stay at home during their palliative treatment, there are all sorts of technology solutions to aid in keeping seniors safe. So, what exactly are we talking about? Let’s go through some examples.

Remote Monitoring

Technology is an excellent tool for helping caregivers to identify when a problem has arisen. Sensors in smartwatches or other wearable devices can transmit a signal to the health care team—when a patient has fallen over, for example. In it’s November 2016 edition of IEEE Pulse magazine, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers explained how remote monitoring via wearable sensors can “predict the likelihood of falls, detect movement changes, and alert caregivers immediately if the individual does fall.”

Motion sensors are not only used to indicate whether an individual is moving around. They can also be utilized to indicate whether a medicine cabinet has been opened, giving remote caregivers an idea of whether medication has been taken or not.

These kinds of interventions are enormously helpful for caregivers who face high levels of burnout when they are monitoring patients over a long period of time, says Mary Bates in her article Technological Innovation comes to Palliative Care.

There is also a push for technology that helps to monitor caregivers. “The stress felt by caregivers is a priority for health systems because when caregivers feel stressed or overwhelmed, they lean heavily on the medical system for help,” reports Arif Kamal of the Duke University School of Medicine. “Remote monitoring technology has the potential to monitor for when issues start causing unmanageable stress and alert the care team before things get out of control.”

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Smart Homes Help Preserve Dignity

For the elderly who may not have the resources to live full-time in palliative care facilities, there are innovations on the market that are increasingly affordable and can make a big difference to the quality of life, while allowing them to still live at home.

Automated thermostats and lights that are controlled via a simple tap on a phone are extremely useful in keeping a home well-lit and the temperature pleasant.   

Voice-activated entertainment systems, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, can help keep seniors entertained if they have lost the ability to turn devices on and off and move around on their own. Mobility around the home can be an issue for some. Smart video doorbells are a great solution that lets you see who is at your door without having to get up.

It’s vital that seniors feel that their home is a safe environment and that their living space has been modified to suit their needs.

Connectivity & Communication

Sometimes the simplest applications are the most useful. The ability to speak to relatives at a very low cost or view Facebook albums of grandchildren and videos of birthday parties via Whatsapp, as well as countless other small interactions that we take for granted, can be transformative for people with limited mobility.

At the same time, those in palliative care can use social media tools to curate their own life story, make recordings for their friends and relatives to hear, and shape the way that they see themselves. That may be one of the most powerful changes that the digital age has brought to the elderly.

Final Thoughts

As the world’s population continues to live longer and technology improves by leaps and bounds every year, it’s natural to assume that more and more solutions will be focused on the aged, and some of that attention will be on palliative care.

Author’s Bio:

Joseph Jones has been writing senior care and aging-related articles for years. He got his start while writing for a personal blog before he was offered the opportunity to work at California Mobility in 2018 as the Content Marketing Manager, creating highly informative guides and health awareness articles for aging adults. He is currently contributing to a variety of blogs in the senior health industry in the hope of spreading information about taking care of seniors and what to expect in the aging process.