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CES – An Amazing Future for Healthcare

The yearly extravaganza called CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is the place where the new computer run devices and the accompanying software are revealed. It is held each year in Las Vegas Neveda. CES brought together over 4,300 exhibiters and 135,000 attendees.

I attend this conference so I can report back to you on what is new in medical devices that help older Americans and what amazing things are on the horizon. I’m not here to promote any specific company and, as such, I won’t identify any company by name. I will describe new innovations, and I’ll do my best to explain them in laymen terms, which I can report is sorely lacking at CES. While the devices themselves are extremely complicated, their impact on improving the lives of all Americans, but especially seniors, cannot be understated. Almost all are life changing and some could be lifesaving.

I do need to comment about artificial intelligence (AI). It seemed like it was a part of every device. For medical devices it seemed to be used to evaluate multiple inputs from monitoring devices and make educated assumptions. It also seemed to be good at learning about an individual, their habits, their health, etc., and reacting on a personalized level. For example, a device may  learn about the way you walk, your gait, and sense and alert you when your gait has consistently changed, something that those around you may not detect. It seemed to me that AI was the biggest new thing that will have the greatest impact on our future healthcare.

To give some order to my report, I will divide it into three different, but often overlapping, categories – devices that are Direct Medical Treatments, Enhance Our Ability to Age in Place, and Improve Our Wellbeing.

Direct Medical Treatments – Miniaturization continues to develop.   Making everything smaller and increasing the accuracy and versatility of surgical robots adds to the number of non-evasive surgeries that can be performed. Anything that shortens our hospital stays reduces our exposure to hospital infections and lowers our overall healthcare costs. There was one company that found a way to keep the camera lens clean as it made its way through our body to the place where the surgery was to be done and kept it clear as the surgery was performed. I really don’t know how doctors perform surgeries looking at a screen, but it is a common occurrence and is being improved each year.

Enhance Our Ability to Age in Place – Over my years working in the public policy space, the thing that older Americans brought up post often  was their desire to stay in their homes as they get older. I have always advocated for anything that can help this happen. Aging in place not only helps us to be healthier but also helps lower the cost of ageing by keeping seniors out of costly institutional care facilities. Almost all of the devices in this category have a way to alert doctors or caregivers if something is amiss. This might be the single best thing that allows people to age in place. I can’t begin to describe the huge number and diversity of devices that help people stay in their home as they get older, so I’ll just pick  the ones that impressed me the most.

  • Health monitoring – This was clearly the area that had the largest number of approaches. Devices could determine through watching you on a camera, everything from heart rate to blood pressure to oxygen saturation. Pads you sleep on can determine your sleep efficiency. I know that many of our smart watches do that now, but everything is getting more accurate and precise. There is a device that you wear on your head as you sleep that monitors your brainwaves and uses the results to play sounds that help you sleep better.
  • Problem detection – Using cameras and other sensors, like radar, allow monitoring systems to detect if bad things have happened, such as a person not taking their medications, falling, or  remaining in bed.
  • Personal Mobility – If you can’t move around by yourself, you probably can’t stay in your house if you live alone. There were many things that helped seniors be more mobile. There was a kind of exoskeleton you put on your legs that had small motors that can sense when you step and help you walk, especially when climbing stairs. There was a simple device that fastened to your walker or cane that projected a line out in front that gave you a target to step to. It also had a beeping mechanism that gave you a target pace. These inputs are especially useful for people who have ALS, have experienced a stroke, or have otherwise had their ability to walk impacted. The device helps develop alternate pathways for signals to reach someone’s legs. I think this would have really helped my good friend who died of Lewy body dementia. He sometimes just stood but couldn’t get his legs to take the first step.

Improve Our Wellbeing – Many of the things that make our life easier can also improve our health and let us stay in our house longer. I got to experience an absolute pain free laser device that pricked my finger for a blood sugar test that diabetes patients endure every day. This approach could be a big help for people who are afraid of needles. There were cuffless blood pressure devices and instant urine analysis. Then there were the robots.

There were robots that could cook, make drinks, clean our house and our swimming  pools and robots that could help us be happy. The one that I liked the best was the dog robot. It just seemed to sense the people around the demonstration area and would react to them. Here is a short video that gives you a sense of how it worked. One of the exhibiters related to me how this robot would calm Alzheimer’s patients who were normally agitated and even abusive. I sense that many monitoring devices would find their way into a robot that became the “watchdog” for an older person.

My vote for the device that improved wellbeing the most was hearing aids. My choice might have been influenced by the fact that I’m in the market for hearing aids. My old age and my time in a B-52 have conspired to make my hearing less than optimal, so I was extremely interested in the many hearing aids available due to the relaxed regulations on over-the-counter purchases. There were many opportunities to take hearing tests right on the exhibition floor, although they were somewhat hampered by the noisy environment. There were over the ear, behind the ear and in the ear devices. Almost all had the ability to use Bluetooth to work with an app on your phone as well as talk on your phone and listen to music. Here’s my description of the hearing aid that I think will be the best when it is finalized in a few months. It fits in your ear with different size collars depending on the size of the ear channel. It was programmable through an app that allows you to personalize the settings depending on your hearing and your environment. The thing that I thought differentiated this device from others was its ability to perform a hearing test and then download that test to your hearing aids, which then tuned them into your individual hearing test requirements. This gives you a base to start with as you fine-tune the hearing aids. I think being able to hear is something that helps every part of your quest toward staying healthy.

I’ve already gone past my normal length for my blogs, and I’ve still only covered a fraction of what I saw. In closing, there are a couple of things that did cause me some pause. When you have a robot filming you 24/7, even for logical health reasons, it gathers a large amount of private information exposing it to the threat of getting hacked. Information is power for good and for bad. The government is wrestling with AI and what protections should be put in place. AI has the ability to change our lives faster and in bigger ways than anything else in history. How do we limit the bad aspects of AI without squelching the innovation that will improve everyone’s life? It is a big question that has yet to be answered. All in all, for what I could see, our healthcare future looks great.

Best, Thair