Globally speaking, the number of people above the age of 80 is expected to triple – from 137 million to 425 million by the year 2050. Europe is no exception from this statistic. The population structure in Europe is changing rapidly – with a growing share of older people. It is estimated that by 2030, the elderly (aged 60 and over) will represent more than 25% of the population on the old continent.
The elderly are a group of people with specific needs and a way of life. It is important to help them maintain a good physical and mental shape which will surely improve their quality of life. Besides, it should be noted that most senior citizens prefer the comfort of their own home rather than staying at a social establishment or nursing home. Various digital technologies like E-health and robotics have the potential to make that possible.
If this is the first time you’re hearing of E-health, essentially this means the use of digital technology for remote care and can include a wide range of digital solutions in healthcare and social care. For example, providing remote care using various sensors such as a sensor for falling or fire sensors. In Poland, there is a local project that aims to improve the safety of the elders’ home by providing them with these devices. Providing medical care from a distance is also a good example. It can be a consultation through a phone or video call between a patient and a doctor. In Japan, for example, the lack of medical staff has seriously pushed the development of this type of “telemedicine”. In Greece, telemedicine is used by patients on remote and isolated islands.
In addition, so-called mobile health (mHealth) which is the use of mobile health applications for self-diagnosis and remote health monitoring, is currently under serious development. Norway, for example, has tested a number of technologies, such as automatic pill dispensers, remote chronic disease monitoring and personalized health check-ups.
And this is just the beginning, a lot of assistive technologies are currently being developed to support the daily lives of the elderly. These are a variety of devices and even entire home systems that aid the performance of various activities and tasks. Robotic technology is also proving to be extremely useful in this area. It is currently used in robotic wheelchairs, shower chairs and fall prevention technologies. But that’s not all, robotic technologies can also indirectly help older people by helping their caregivers.
In Sweden, for example, after getting acquainted with and using the Poseidon automated shower chair, older people feel more independent and happier, and what is more this technology drastically reduces the risk of injury while showering. Another interesting example is the therapeutic robot – seal Paro which is used in therapies for the elderly who have problems with emotional contact and sleep in many countries (USA, UK, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands). In Japan there are even nursing robots in some nursing homes. Another interesting example can be seen in some nursing homes in Norway as they use virtual reality glasses to improve the daily lives of people with dementia and various other diseases. Using VR, the elderly can return to the neighborhood where they grew up and relive memories they may have forgotten. Or attend a show or movie without the need for supervision.
But it is not just complex technological solutions that can improve care for senior citizens. In the Netherlands, for example, municipalities are organizing various courses for improving computer skills amongst the elderly. Similar initiatives for improving digital skills are present in Sweden, Austria, Poland, Norway, Finland and Catalonia.
In conclusion, an increasing proportion of the population is getting older and at the same time the number of caregivers and medical staff is decreasing. The lack of caregivers in social institutions, in turn, shifts the responsibility to non-professionals, most often family members. According to a British report, these are usually women between the ages of 50 and 60. And in Japan, people are even forced to quit their jobs to be able to care for elderly family members due to a shortage of medical staff. That is why the development of various technologies aiding elderly care is extremely important at this time.