Ageing societies in western countries lead to more people with chronic health conditions and in need of care. Recent developments in technology have led to more devices supporting elderly people. They provide health care and enable elderly people to maintain their autonomy and allow them to live independently for a longer period of time. These technologies are subsumed under the term “telecare”. Trials have shown that hospital admissions and mortality can be reduced by such devices. Telecare may therefore unburden the health care system and serve at the patients’ best interest in allowing them to live for a longer period of time independently and increase quality of live.
How can technology empower seniors to better manage their everyday life?
For an overview of existing telecare technologies for senior citizens and future developments and tendencies in this field in Europe, please read the report at the end of this page. Below are some promising technologies that can help seniors to better manage their everyday life.
Devices, detectors and sensors
Tracking devices such as GPS receivers attached on a belt, necklace, shoe etc. can determine the position of the person wearing it. A person with dementia can use a GPS in her shoe and the device can alert relatives or care personell if the person moves outside a given area or is late home from a walk. This enables someone with e.g. dementia to take walks when she feels like it, and she can be taken care of if she gets lost.
Detectors and alarm systems can monitor, alert and act upon selected criteria (they are sometimes called smart house technologies). Lights, heating, doors and windows can be automatically controlled, and sensors can monitor and alert falls, fires, floods and similar. This can create greater security and independence in the living place.
Robots are automated machines that can be programmed and designed to make choices and adapt their responsibilities to the environment they operate in. Robots can help solve practical tasks at home, such as cleaning, gardening, vacuum clean as well as put the cups in and out of the dishwasher. Researchers are developing robots that can assist in more personal tasks like eating and body washing. This can ease everyday tasks, helping people to live independently at home.
Body sensors and specialised medical devices such as sensing patches, smart watches or arm wrists can monitor patients’ health status and enable medical treatment over distance. By monitoring and evaluating critical body conditions like heartbeat, lung capacity or blood values, one can get an assessment of a treatment program, medication, need for consultation or the like without leaving home. People with chronic heart disease can measure their heart activities with wireless sensors on their bodies. The data can be sent on a regular basis to the (health) care service and alarms will be triggered on critical conditions. In this way, patients can experience increased independence, safety, mobility and freed time.
Internet enables a multitude of ways to communicate. Most sensors, detectors, and monitoring devices are attached to tablets or mobile (smart) phones connected to the Internet to collect and share the data.
Some detectors and alarm systems may require more secure communication solutions and special purpose systems to ensure communication with the health care services and alarm-centrals (like the ambulance service and the fire brigade).
Services and applications
A myriad of services are available over the Internet. Via these services one can both maintain and make contact with others. Email, chat and social media enable communication with friends and family, as well as the health care provider and others. Video cameras, microphones and speakers allow richer communication and consultations and diagnostics from different locations.
Many everyday tasks can be done easier using Internet services; like reading the news, ordering food, tickets and other goods, payment of bills and other banking services, watching films and other entertainment. Internet services can organise and coordinate the sharing of resources like cleaning, gardening, technology assistance and transportation in a flexible and timely manner. Web-based rehabilitation programs are common, giving opportunity to follow a rehabilitation plan, have communication with the healthcare service and contact others in the same situation.
Applications on tablets and smartphones can help manage chronic health conditions and provide support through contious monitoring of the measurements from the devices. Data analytics can interpret and visualise the measurements, alerts and sensor data into understandable and actionable information. For example, a mobile application can visualise the heart measurements and indicate if there is something wrong. Relatives or health professionals can directly be alerted on indications on abnormal behaviour. Memoplanners can help people with dementia to remember appointmens or remind them to take their medicine.