The Digitalization of Elderly Care

Daniel Steffen

Hello, I’m Daniel, Senior Investment Manager in our Life Sciences team. Besides drug development, biotech, medtech and diagnostics, we have here a specific interest in promising digital health and software solutions in the rapidly growing and challenging market of elderly care. We made several investments in that space and already exited companies successfully such as PflegeBoxMedia4CareNursIT and Seniovo. However, not only from an investor’s perspective, but from everyone’s private perspective it is highly important to get a better understanding about elderly care and its practical relevance because it is just inevitable that anyone of us will have a relative dependent on care or that we will at some time become dependent ourselves. Today I like to share some ideas and examples with you how digitization can impact elderly care, for instance, in supporting families, relieving caregivers and improving workflows.

As a result of the demographic change towards an ageing population in most western countries, the market for elderly care is undergoing a rapid growth (see table below). To meet the requirements of this development, the market faces enormous challenges across all of its segments like home care, assisted living, adult day care, long term care, care/nursing homes and hospice care. Such challenges comprise, for instance, investments in new care facilities and beds, the competition for qualified personnel, the care profession’s attractiveness, prevention, promotion of health as well as automation and digitization of processes and routine activities.

In Germany there are currently 3.4 million people in need of long-term care, of which 2.6 million receive care by their families and/or with assistance of home care providers. Due to the fast-growing population of the ageing person, but the only slow-growing bed supply, more and more relatives will be responsible for the care of their family members at home.

It is obvious that there is a huge need for action to implement new measures and to bring new solutions to the market to relieve care-giving relatives, as well as care professionals. By means of digitization, technology and novel service models, start-ups can make substantial contributions. To get into a little more detail, I like to present to you an exemplary selection of elderly care start-ups, some of them are or had been in our portfolio.

Support of Families at Home

Of these 2.6 million people in need of care at home, an almost inconceivable number of 1.8 million receive care by their families only. This is, without any doubt, a huge burden. Unfortunately it comes with many types of, to a certain extent even unforeseen, challenges. and Töchter&Söhne offer access to extensive content, some of it as video-based trainings, on most practical, statutory, financial and social aspects if someone becomes dependent on care.

One practical matter comes in the form of specific nursing and incontinence products for everyday use. To avoid frequently visits of pharmacies and medical stores as well as bureaucratic hurdles with your care insurance, PflegeBox offers a selection of different, curated sets of such care products on a monthly subscription-base and settles all aspects on cost takeover directly with the insurance.

In addition, medical alert systems are covered by care insurances likewise. These systems can help seniors to live at home longer and more independent but can be very useful for elderly who do not receive care at home all day long. Companies like Libify and Zembro offer modern, smartwatch-integrated and to emergency centres and relatives connected solutions.

In many cases, living and care-giving at home even requires adaptations you need to make to your home. These changes can, for instance, range from stair lifts, bannisters, widened doorways, and outdoor ramps to bath lifts, walk-in showers and grab rails. Berlin-based Seniovo makes it easy to hire qualified fitters from their own partner-network for such specific needs of elderly care at home.

Families that cannot provide the required care for their family member may need to find assistance with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating, with household chores, shopping and therapy. Via Careshipbetreut.deWohnen-im-Alter, and Pflegixfor exampleyou can find the home health care services and in-home care services you need. If care at home is not possible anymore, some of such marketplaces even let you find, compare and contact retirement homes, and care facilities such as care/nursing homes and hospice care providers.

Digitization Potentials in Care Facilities

Not only in home care, but also in the segment of professional care facilities there is a huge need to support caregivers in their everyday work, to optimize daily routines, to enhance the attractiveness of the care profession itself, especially since facility operators are struggling already now to find personnel, and to improve quality of life of elderly in need of care. One digitization potential lies for instance in the documentation of all nursing activities. It can take nurses around 40% of their working hours to document their day-to-day work. To considerably reduce such documentation efforts, NursIT developed a holistic software suite. Once implemented, on average nurses can gain one hour on nursing time per patient.

Another solution to ease the everyday pressure of nurses and to improve the quality of life of seniors is a specific tablet of Media4Care, which consists of diverse entertainment formats (e.g. movies, images, games) which were specifically produced for elderly, especially for those with cognitive dysfunctions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. With the integration of further functionalities like a family portal to better communicate with relatives, the tablet is being developed towards a holistic service platform. The tablets can be used by elderly at home as well — with or without need of care.

One on communication and family integration specialised provider is myo. With myo, nurses can share video, text and voice messages with relatives, so they can gain a better insight into their family member’s wellbeing and activities. Through direct integration and transparency into daily routines, unnecessary phone calls can be reduced and more time for direct interaction with elderly can be won.

Nonetheless, seniors in care facilities will still spend time without assistance and maybe take a walk in or around their nursing home. While doing so, there is a significant risk they might fall. That is why regularly geriatric assessments are mandatory to prevent such falls. Lindera developed a digital assessment to better estimate the likelihood to fall and to track changes over time. Thus nurses can better decide whom to accompany.

Future Potentials

As exemplary shown above, there are already several solutions available which can relieve both caregiving relatives and care professionals as well as improve quality of live for elderly at home or in care facilities. But there are some areas of application, where usage potentials are still untapped or not yet market-ready. Intelligent, assistive robotic systems could, for instance, undertake certain routines such as personal hygiene, especially intimate care, positioning and lifting, hence for caregivers demanding activities which even come with a certain level of embarrassment for elderly. Due to its demographic challenges and an overall highly positive perception, Japan has a leading position in development and usage of robotic systems such as Toyota’s human support robots, Panasonic’s transfer assist bed Resyone, hybrid assistive limb-solutions from Cyberdyne, amongst very-well known semi-humanoid interaction-robots like SoftBank’s Pepper and NAO.

Another potential lies in telemedicine, which can improve quality of care substantially. It can allow facilities to better organize communication with external physicians, like the patient’s general practitioner or with consulting physicians, to exchange medical information and to adapt therapies more efficiently. Until recently, applicability of telemedicine had been limited in the German market due to legal boundaries. After passing of several Care Improvement Acts in 2018 and 2019 (Pflegestärkungsgesetz and Pflegepersonal-Stärkungsgesetz), there is a lot more room for telemedicine solutions, with first, regional projects for elderly care already running.

If you are a founder who develops promising solutions which help to overcome challenges faced by elderly in need of care, care-giving relatives, as well as care professionals, maybe even on basis of such future potentials, you are always highly welcome to reach out to us! Looking forward to it!


Image sources

Picture 1: ViewApart/iStock
Picture 2: sturti/iStock
Picture 3: AlexRaths/iStock
Picture 4: miriam-doerr/iStock