Research & Publications

Digital Companions Improve Psychosocial and Behavioral Health Support for Older Adults

Jan 1, 2018

Background:

Technology has the potential to transform health care for many individuals by making care more accessible, affordable and trying to bridge gaps. A service used in the PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) model is a digital companion, providing 24X7 care, that can be given to older adults to ease the burden on caregivers while managing chronic conditions.


Case Study: We present the case of a 65-year-old female PACE participant who attended the PACE day program sporadically, was undergoing treatment for depression, anxiety and insomnia, complaining that she did not feel safe at home and felt unsupported. She suffered the loss of two family members recently which aggravated her anxiety and depression, led to anxiety and panic attacks, and impacted both her social and physical health. Provided by care.coach, she was set up with a digital companion in her home for companionship, support for medications, self-management of her chronic conditions as well as mitigation of grief, loss, and anxiety including personalized activities. A social worker helped to set up the companion and checked in weekly. She was enrolled in 15 out of the 21 available protocols including depression screening and tracking of the patient, and in the first five months of utilizing the companion, there have been 13 logged avatar interventions. Afterward, she started to attend her PACE sessions daily (Monday to Friday) and her mood improved. She started to embrace the digital companion as a loyal friend and support system, stating “I love my avatar and would recommend it to anyone! […] It also reminds me to take my medications and use my walker.”


Discussion: Beyond the provided social benefits, this also provides a patient monitoring service where trained professionals can observe what is happening to the patient in his/her environment. Digital companions are easy to implement and can engage patients with significant functional or cognitive impairments, and is supported by a specially trained health advocate team. This example of technology not only provides a patient monitoring capability, but also provides high need, complex patients with a level of psychosocial support and consequent quality of life that the standard of care cannot.