The ageing population of Europe has been seen as a crisis to many as the rising costs of long term care and the challenges that affect the daily lives of older adults put more and more pressure on society. However, the power of technology is now helping to give independence back to older adults, and demand for solutions that improve quality of life for them and their carers is soaring. So, is this really a crisis, or is it an opportunity to help integrate people into society for longer and improve the well-being of older adults in Europe?
Populations around the world are ageing. This long-term trend began several decades ago in Europe due to increased life expectancy and declining birth rates. The result is that there is now more pressure on healthcare systems, social services and the working population, as older citizens become increasingly dependent upon others.
But what would happen if this trend were not treated as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity? People do not want to lose their independence – it is taken away from them. But now there is a growing group of businesses and researchers who believe that technology can give that independence back to them. This is what the AAL Programme, which funds ICT projects that promote active and healthy ageing, is all about.
The AAL Programme is, in its essence, all about making life easier for people as they get older. The challenges of ageing affect everyone, either personally or indirectly through relatives and loved ones. The AAL Programme is confronting this phenomenon head on by promoting the creation of state-of-the-art technological solutions that can help people live independent and active lives for longer.
Using technology to help people as they age makes sense for several reasons. By giving people back their ability to lead comfortable lives without being overly reliant upon others, it not only improves their quality of life but also takes some of the pressure off healthcare systems and informal carers such as family members.
The benefits of doing so are many. By giving people back their ability to lead comfortable lives without being overly reliant upon others, it not only improves their quality of life but also takes some of the pressure off healthcare systems and informal carers such as family members.
Management of chronic conditions, social inclusion, mobility, management of daily activities, and support for informal carers (e.g. family and friends) are all areas in which the need for technology is growing. Without addressing this situation, the rapidly increasing costs of long-term care for older adults will quickly become unmanageable.
One example of a project designed to improve the wellbeing and autonomy of older adults is DOMEO, which has developed robotic companions that interact with users to improve their mobility, help them stand up, walk and sit, as well as monitor their vital signs and transmit this data to emergency services if required. They are also able to provide entertainment and cognitive assistance to remind the user of appointments, scheduled calls with others, and when they need to take their medication. Project coordinator Vincent Dupourqué says: “Domestic robots that provide physical assistance and companionship are an excellent solution for those who wish to maintain their independence.”
Another system designed to make living at home easier that has arisen through an AAL project is Rosetta, which helps people with progressive chronic disabilities such as Alzheimer’s retain their autonomy and quality of life.The non-obtrusive sensory system which is set up around the home works by monitoring sleep patterns and daily activities so that caregivers and families of the user can be informed on the development of the illness. It can also raise the alarm of any serious deviation from normal behaviour that may indicate an accident or fall.
By encouraging people to remain active, engage in regular exercise and refrain from behaviours that could have a detrimental effect on their health, society can harness the experience, expertise and creativity of a large number of older people. Many older adults still have a lot to give to society and technology can help facilitate this.