As the coronavirus threatens Maine’s elder communities, it’s clear that our most at-risk populations must watch their own day-to-day health even more closely.

This is especially true in the Pine Tree State, one of the oldest in the nation. More than one-fifth of Maine’s population is older than 65, meaning the pandemic poses an even greater risk than in states where Millennials and Gen Xers comprise a larger demographic share. In mid-May, statistics showed more than half of Maine’s deaths from COVID-19 have taken place in nursing homes.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to the frontline doctors, nurses, and support staff that are taking care of patients within their walls. But, to protect Maine’s most vulnerable elders, we need to prevent the virus from reaching them in the first place. Our seniors and their care providers are facing an unprecedented strain and we need a more proactive approach.

One remaining area of significant risk is congregate senior housing facilities. Independent congregate living is an important aspect of aging in Maine, but it current comes with increased exposure through shared spaces, such as doorways, hallways, and mailrooms.

In the days and months ahead, we need to encourage people living in these residences to protect themselves and monitor their symptoms. Eventually, more visitors will return to apartment complexes, condominiums, and congregate living spaces to spend time with their loved ones. Right now, our seniors need the tools to build resilience before they encounter COVID-19.

To begin, our seniors need the equipment to self-manage their health. This is particularly important for seniors with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart failure. Chronic conditions weaken immune systems, making us more prone to additional health complications from the virus. Just like personal hygiene mitigates the spread of coronavirus, proactive self-management protects us from further health complications and even death.


Next, once an individual shows signs of the virus, we must immediately contain the spread. This requires contact tracing strengthened by symptom monitoring. Contact tracing allows us to understand at the earliest moment who has been exposed to the virus, likely before they experience symptoms. We must then monitor symptoms that indicate the presence of the virus so that testing is done in a timely fashion. However, this is only possible if we provide Mainers with the proper equipment to track their symptoms and communicate their health daily.

Let’s face it: Every senior today needs a functioning thermometer, and pulse oximeter to measure their lung function as well. So, if they do contract the coronavirus, we can start contact tracing immediately and intervene at the earliest possible moment.

Our immune system is more powerful than we think. With strong self-management and the proper equipment, artificial intelligence (AI) is able to detect emerging health problems at home, and seven in 10 chronic health issues can be addressed through timely self-management. From tracking medication adherence to monitoring symptoms and activities of daily living, self-management allows people to receive the earliest possible intervention when conditions deteriorate.

Of course, this all requires America’s private sector to step up on behalf of all Americans, especially those at greatest risk. Innovators in the healthcare space must provide Americans with the technological tools to manage their health at home.

AI and medical equipment are perhaps our most valuable tools to protect Maine seniors. One example is our Ibis program. An AI-powered health management system, the Ibis program provides people with devices to monitor coronavirus symptoms by tracking vital signs and other health factors that indicate infection. Ibis members become better-informed in their decisions to self-quarantine, socially distance, and seek medical help from others.

We are by no means the only innovators in healthcare, but self-management systems are important pieces of solving the healthcare puzzle—now and in the future. Data shows that strong self-management remotely supported through telehealth, like Ibis, can reduce hospital visits by more than 70 percent and increase care efficiency. Additionally, Ibis can save the U.S. healthcare system an average of $8,000 annually per member. Those who effectively self-manage can enjoy increased time between hospitalization by three-fold—from months to years.

We are very grateful for the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic. From doctors and nurses to first responders, we are all in this fight together.

One of the best ways to support our heroes is by managing our own health better and building resilience against COVID-19. Technology can help us slow the spread and save the lives of those we love. When we embrace new technology, empower our seniors, and equip them with telehealth, we take a gigantic step toward overcoming this public health crisis.

Piali De, Ph.D is co-founder and CEO of Senscio Systems in Scarborough. Claus Hamann, MD, MS, FACP is the Chief Health Officer at Senscio Systems and Geriatrician with Ibis Health Services in Maine.

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