PCAST touts telehealth, wearable sensors as key to keeping aging population connected

Report to President Obama claims remote monitoring technologies, robust Internet are essential as Americans live longer.
By Mike Miliard
11:39 AM

A new report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology claims technologies such as telehealth and wearable sensors should be put to work to help more elderly Americans stay healthy and connected as they age.

The report by PCAST, an advisory group of scientists and engineers appointed by President Barack Obama to make policy recommendations related to technology and science, found these types of technologies can help elderly Americans face challenges tied to social connectivity, emotional health and cognitive and physical ability.

"With many Americans wishing to live in their homes and communities for as long as possible, technology such as prosthetics, wearable sensors, and other tools for daily living can make that possible," said PCAST members Christine Cassel and Ed Penhoet.

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As of 2014, an unprecedented 15 percent of the U.S. population was over the age of 65, according to the Census Bureau, and many of them remain active.

Recommendations also include creating better access to the Internet as something essential to health, social engagement and well-being, and offering more education and training for seniors in online technologies.

PCAST also suggests greater efforts by technology providers to develop monitoring tools for frail and vulnerable elders.

But the report also calls on a federal agencies to make changes. Specifically it pointed to telehealth as something with clear benefits for seniors living remotely or with limited mobility – but said the government needed to update regulation and payment policies to reflect recent innovation in the space.

For another example, the Federal Trade Commission should continue to enforce regulatory review and guidelines for commercial cognitive training products, PCAST said.

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And the group called upon an array of federal agencies – from the National Institutes of Health to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA – to expand research on projects such as robotics and advanced mobility technology. It also recommended that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services payment policies should be adapted to increase seniors' access to those next-generation tools.

"Technology has played an important role in increasing life expectancy, but it also has an important role to play in increasing the quality of life by maximizing Americans’ ability to function in their later years," PCAST Chairs John Holdren and Eric Lander wrote in a letter to President Obama.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN