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Six inventions doctors want for our aging population

(Photo credit: FatCamera/iStock)

In 2016 the number of adults over 65 years old surpassed the number of children under 15 for the first time in Canadian history. Although this demographic shift may pose challenges for the economy, it could also have a silver lining for entrepreneurs attuned to this rapidly growing market.

With this in mind, doctors across the country once again shared their creative ideas with me for new products and inventions for their patients — but this time, for our senior citizens and their caregivers.

1. “A side-mounted car rack for walkers.”
- Dr. Nicola Wright, Pediatrician, Calgary, Alta.

For many seniors, losing the ability to drive can be a major blow to their independence. But what if walking becomes a mobility issue first? 

Dr. Wright would love to see a car rack designed for people — like her own mother — who can still drive but have trouble getting from the driver’s seat to the trunk at their destination.

Her idea is an exterior walker rack mounted right behind the driver’s door, which would minimize the ambulatory distance and strength an elder would need to haul it from the car and go on her merry way. Now there’s an idea that could go places!

2. “An online hospital survival-kit shop.”
- Dr. Kristie Skunta, Geriatrician, Thunder Bay, Ont.

In 2010 Canadian seniors accounted for 40 per cent of acute hospital stays. Being admitted to the hospital from the emergency room can be a disorienting and intimidating process — especially for older patients who don’t have friends or family close by. 

To ease the transition to the ward, Dr. Skunta’s brainwave is a one-click online store that would sell and deliver a box of hospital essentials from the gift shop or nurses’ station to a newly admitted patient, including creature comforts like a clock, calendar, pen and notepad, word search, toiletries, cozy blanket and cheery, motivational card. 

Finnish baby box for adults, anyone?

3. “Visual disease-mapping software for complex patients.”
- Dr. Michele Saxon, Family Physician, Middleton, N.S.

In addition to gaining years, people also tend to acquire more medical conditions as they age. 

As lab results, imaging reports and specialist encounters pile up over time, it can be tricky for primary-care physicians to keep track of their patients’ complex health histories. Unfortunately, many electronic medical records add to the frustration by listing chart data in a linear and piecemeal way.

Dr. Saxon hopes for software that would generate visual timelines detailing the evolution of diseases and symptoms by body system, with links to relevant investigations, consults and outcomes along the way.

Happy doctors, healthier patients.

4. “A vibrating fall-prevention shoe.”
- Dr. Jillian Achenbach, Family Physician, Halifax, N.S.

Falls are the number-one cause of injury leading to hospitalization in older Canadians. Equipment like canes and walkers help to a certain extent, but what if there were a device that could warn its wearer to avoid fall hazards in the first place? 

Dr. Achenbach’s inspired idea is a smart shoe that senses when your toe or outer foot is approaching a risky object or terrain, then emits a warning vibration in that part of the shoe to direct your attention downwards. An audio alarm option for seniors with reduced foot sensation would be an added bonus.

5. “A robotic home-care aide.”
- Dr. Jennifer Montis, General Internist, North Vancouver, B.C.

According to the 2011 Census, 92 per cent of adults over 65 live at home — and the vast majority would prefer to stay there as they age. Add that to the problem of acute hospital beds filled with elders who lack the support to return home, the time is ripe for Dr. Montis’s idea: a robotic home-care assistant. Essential automated tasks would include patient transfers between a bed and chair, assistance with feeding and bathing, and administering medication at timed intervals.

Satisfied seniors and health-care-system savings? Sold.

6. “A sound-amplifying app paired with easy-clean headphones.”
- Dr. Gillian Sheppard, Emergency Physician, St. John’s, N.L.

Hearing loss affects almost 80 per cent of Canadian adults over the age of 60. In a noisy ER cubicle, or even a quieter outpatient office, this can lead to major issues with confidentiality when physicians have to raise their voices to be heard. 

Dr. Sheppard is hoping for an inexpensive device — like a voice-amplifying phone app bundled with sterilizable headphones to avoid spreading bugs — to solve this conundrum.

Dr. Tanya Tran, an Edmonton-based hospitalist who often cares for seniors whose aging brains revert to their mother tongues, thinks the app would also benefit from a voice-translation feature. “Then we could actually have a private conversation with a patient instead of having to yell so the whole ward knows whether he's had a bowel movement or not," said Dr. Tran. 

Music to our ears!