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How can technology help society care for older people?

dementia_wordmap[This is a blog post by Maneesh Juneja (@ManeeshJuneja)who runs Health2.0 London.]

In 2 weeks’ time, at Health 2.0 Europe, I am moderating a pre-conference workshop, ‘Health 2.0 Tools for the Elderly’. Dr Leslie Kernisan wrote a blog post after attending the recent Health 2.0 Silicon Valley conference, observing that most Health 2.0 solutions are not designed with the elderly in mind. That’s why I was very impressed when Health 2.0 invited me to curate and moderate the workshop on Nov 17th. We have got 11 different technology solutions designed specifically for the elderly being demonstrated at the workshop. Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry, I acknowledge that technology is only one out of the array of solutions available to society.

Looking at the forecasts about the aging population, it’s way too easy to view the elderly as a burden, not a resource. Older people with their talents, wisdom and life experience have much to share with younger members of society. Could technology be used to connect those opposite ends of the age spectrum? We’ve got a demo of GeriJoy, by Victor Wang, who gave a talk at TEDMED 2013, on how virtual companions might help ease our caregiving crisis.

On 1st Oct 2013, Silvia Stefanoni, Chief Executive of HelpAge International, said:

“The world is rapidly ageing: people over 60 years of age already exceed children under 5, and by 2050 they will outnumber children under 15. However, the continual exclusion of ageing from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world’s aging population.”

In the recently published Global Agewatch Index, in which 91 countries were ranked on social and economic wellbeing of older people, the UK was ranked 13th. Turkey was ranked 70th, below Dominican Republic & Ghana. Even the country that spends the most of healthcare, the USA, was ranked 8th.

This isn’t just about people getting older, but about their families and caregivers. What are the ways in which technology can help a son or daughter caring for a parent that has Alzheimer’s? Intelesant, winner of a Guardian award for Innovation with Technology, will be demonstrating their ELMA tool, for End of Life care. We don’t often hear End of Life Care being discussed in society, let alone at health technology conferences.

The UK set up the 3 million lives initiative, looking at how Telehealth and better self care at home could improve the wellbeing of 3 million people with long term conditions and/or social care needs. I attended the inaugural Internet of Things World Forum last week, where a vision of a future where billions of devices will be connected to the internet was shared. I’m really curious about the impact that ‘sensors’ may bring to our world. 

With 13% of the UK population being non-white, what are the cultural differences? We have Janet Jadavji, as part of the panel discussion, who will be sharing her perspectives on how different communities are dealing with elderly relatives.

It’s not about the latest technology, as the digital divide does exist. 69% of people aged 75 or older in the UK have never used the internet. We will have a demo from SpeakSet, who have developed technology that connects families via the TV!                  

We will also have a talk from Sarah Reed, who will sharing valuable insights from her considerable experience with caring for older people. Beyond the headlines, Sarah will shed light on the daily challenges that elderly people face, and where the opportunities for technology are.

Urbanisation is something that is changing the landscape of the planet, half the world’s population live in cities and this proportion will rise. Loneliness is a problem, and not only impacts physical health but mental health too. Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary in the UK, recently remarked that 5 million people say TV is their main form of company. In light of these trends, I wonder if technology can help us stay connected to elders, wherever WE might be in the world?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges posed by aging populations in every country. However, I believe that by coming together, having open and mature conversations, we stand a chance of making a ‘tangible’ difference in the lives of billions.

Today, you may think that the needs of older people are not your problem. However, everyone gets old. In curating this workshop, I’ve observed that many of the innovators I met developed an idea driven by their own personal experience of caring for an elderly relative. Through courage and tenacity, they channelled their frustration into developing a product or service that could make all the difference.

What if you could play a role in building technology that could help older people and their families in the future? Whilst improving outcomes and reducing the cost of care is important, how might technology enable the healthcare system to also provide more ‘compassionate care’ to the elderly? 

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