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Home Alone?

When you imagine needing long term care, what do you imagine? Is the location a larger building, perhaps an assisted living facility, where responsibilities such as yard care and cooking are someone else’s concern? Or are you in your own home, tended to by paid caregivers, with visits from family and friends? Perhaps you will you be home alone, with a little (or a lot of) help from technology?

An article in the June 2018 issue of “The Elderly Report,” a newsletter for lawyers, actually had me thinking about how technology may help with caregiving. “Technological Innovations Can Help Seniors” gives a glimpse of how high-tech advancements may disrupt the way we receive long term care, especially in our homes. The article states, “New technologies are increasingly being used to help seniors remain at home longer…Some of these innovations may have the potential to complement the care provided by home health care workers, of which there is a growing shortage.” For example, wrist watches can now monitor and communicate between patient and caregiver, and medical robots can do medication reminders and fall detection and reporting.

In the future, will looking for a caregiver for mom or dad possibly involve a trip to Comcast, or, a call to an ADT-like company? Will Life Alert, the company that sells “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” pendants, also be selling robots and mechanical “pets” programmed to purr and provide companionship— albeit of a mechanical type? I think it’s likely.

Is this good news? Is it a brave new world of more reliable, less expensive caregiving, or, a dystopia in which lonely seniors are cared for by technology instead of by humans? There’s a whole lot of people looking into this, as is evident when the annual “Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit” was held this June, not for the 1st or 5th year, but for the 15th year! This year’s theme was, “Investment, Impact, and Opportunity, in the Longevity Marketplace”.

My gut tells me that a little technology could help make caregiving more affordable and extend how long a long term care insurance policy’s benefit for human caregiving lasts…and that’s a good thing! Keep in mind that policyholders lock in benefit amounts and contractual language when the policy is purchased, so policyholders will have the relative luxury of being able to pay for human caregivers.  

I can easily imagine a scenario where government programs such as Medicaid will provide less human caregivers and more technologically-based, cost-effective, caregiving. This is great news to help overcome the shortage of caregivers, however, more cost effective solutions don’t necessarily correspond with what is desirable.  

No matter what the future holds, it’s a good bet that private long term care insurance, and the pile of money it earmarks for long term care, will provide peace of mind and access to high-touch human care, in the setting that’s desired. Because Home Alone is a great title for a movie, but it’s no way to live when long term care is needed.