Technology – a friend of advanced years
- Technological advances will be crucial to support older people to live a longer, self-determined life and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
- Older people respond positively to electronic devices if they are simple to operate and perform helpful tasks.
- Social networks are playing an important role in curbing loneliness among older people.
Older people who are keen to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and exercise may soon be able to go for a walk in the company of a personal drone. The electronic device would hover overhead and monitor their movements, contacting emergency services in case they become lost or unwell.
This form of “mobile monitoring” would help the elderly maintain their physical and mental health, according to Peter Gleissner, vice president and director of the European Union region at Intel Corporation. “Drones are just one technology with potential to help people retain independence as they age,” he says.
Other technologies that could support seniors in their quest for self-determination include robots, wearable devices, data analytics, social networking, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
The robots are coming home
Older people are responding positively to electronic devices if they are simple to operate and perform helpful tasks. KOMPAÏ Robotics, based in Bidart, France, is developing robots for use by seniors at home and in care. The aim is to slow down any loss of autonomy and help to compensate for it, says Vincent Dupourqué, the company’s founder and chief executive. The Kompaï-1 robot, which underwent trials in early 2016, speaks to users and understands their replies. It reminds them to take their medication or have a meal and suggests exercises and cognitive games. The robot can also ask how they feel, email a doctor if they are unwell, and set up a video medical consultation. “Acceptance is very high, providing people think that the robot is really helping them feel more secure and autonomous in their everyday life,” says Mr Dupourqué.
But to be cost-effective, robots need to do more. Kompaï-2 will provide physical assistance, for example, escorting people in care homes to the dining room. The robot will act as a guide and provide physical support, having a handle to help the user stand and walk.
Tests of Kompaï-2 will begin in 2017 in 20 locations in France. The goal is to validate the technology and business model. Kompaï-2 robots will also be tested for health surveillance in people’s homes, enabling them, for example, to return from a stay in hospital earlier than would otherwise be possible.
Helping to avoid social isolation is another way in which technology can help older people to remain independent, says Kerry Rheinstein, vice president for global growth at Foresight Factory, a consumer research company. “People think services such as Facebook and Twitter are really for the young, but seniors have driven some of the biggest growth of social networks over the past couple of years,” she says. Enhanced video in the form of virtual and augmented reality will also help older people stay in touch with family and friends. Ms Rheinstein explains: “For those living alone, or those with children far away, technology will increasingly be able to bridge the physical gap and enable people to have shared experiences while being far apart.”
France wants to spearhead its approach to ageing by focusing on young people, according to Jean-Marc Bourez, managing director of EIT Health France, part of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) in Paris.
Its “Data in Real Life” project involves applying analytics software to extensive amounts of data on marathon runners aged up to 55 before, during and after events. “The analysis will show people the most effective nutrition and activity strategy to achieve optimum fitness and longer life,” according to Mr Bourez. “Primary prevention is key.” The hope is that younger people will act on this information and modify their behaviour.
EIT Health France is also focusing on people aged 60 to 70—a time when they are more likely to suffer from diseases such as cancer, diabetes and congenital heart disease. “The aim is to avoid institutionalisation and keep these people at home,” says Mr Bourez.
To explore effective ways to help people with visual impairments, EIT Health France has created a “living laboratory” with fake houses and shops fitted with sensors, where people live for a few days at a time. Researchers observe their behaviour to assess the impact of new technology on their lives.
“The aim is to explore the acceptability of these new technologies and find out whether people find them helpful,” says Mr Bourez. Other important goals are to come up with the best business model and to find out how the technologies will be funded. For European countries with ageing populations and rising care costs, technology offers the chance to improve quality of life and promote independence.
Many technologies are already available, according to Mr Gleissner. “The main issues concern the regulatory environment and legal aspects, such as liability.” Given the pace of regulatory change, it may be some time before people are able to take a walk under the watchful eye of a drone.