A fall alarm. Automatic nightlight. Oven reminder. Refrigerator alarm. These are just a few of the new welfare technology solutions that may become a normal part of the lives of the elderly in the future.
New technology and ways of organising activities are needed if we are to meet the challenges facing the welfare state and the enormous needs for health and care services. But technology must not replace personal care and human warmth. The aim is to enhance the quality of life of elderly people who want to live at home as long as possible.
Abilia AS, a Norwegian technology company, has developed a complete safety package for the elderly. One of the main products is the MEMOplanner, an electronic device with a touch screen that keeps track of activities and appointments, and reminds the user of them well in advance. Other key parts of the package include a video telephony device (for private use and connected to a help centre), a medication reminder and a fall alarm. The solutions can be used by people with all types of disabilities, regardless of age.
Abilia AS received the Research Council of Norway's Award for Most Innovative Company in 2010. The company's solutions have been developed with help from the Research Council's programme on ICT for persons with disabilities (IT-FUNK) and in cooperation with Microsoft, the Norwegian SINTEF Foundation , and Bærum and Vågå municipalities.
The anticipated elderly boom has hit
By 2050 a third of Europe's population will be over 60 years of age, and by 2035 the number of people over 80 will have doubled. The World Health Organization estimates that the need for capacity in the health sector under the current system may increase by 130 000 person-years up until 2050 -- a dramatic growth rate of 120 per cent.
"New processes and ways of organising activities are needed if we are to meet the challenges facing the welfare state in the future. Meeting the enormous needs for health and care services calls for innovation in both the approach to the problems and the interaction between the players who are supposed to solve them. New technology, such as that applied in Abilia's products, is also a crucial component," says Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of the Division for Innovation at the Research Council of Norway.
Will not replace human warmth
"Innovation in care services has absolutely nothing to do with replacing personal care and human warmth with technology," says Øystein Johnsen of Abilia. "Quite the contrary, it has to do with enhancing the quality of life of elderly people who are facing challenges such as dementia, but who still want to live at home and can do so with a little help in their daily lives."
"We are concerned that the users do not feel controlled by technology. This is why it is crucial that they are given thorough information and adequate training. It is a matter of reclaiming their homes, about feeling safe in their homes," he explains.
There are also socio-economic benefits to be gained from applying the new welfare technology to enable more elderly to live at home longer, as this will delay their need for a space in a nursing facility.
Satisfied guinea pig
Gunhild Valbjør Løchen (85) is one of the first in the world to test a number of the new solutions designed to simplify daily life for elderly people who want to live at home as long as possible.
She is very pleased with the new possibilities that the technology has created for her.
"It usually takes me some time to remember dates and important appointments. Help with things like that will be very useful," she says, pointing to her MEMOplanner.
Ms. Lochen's daughter-in-law, Liv Hosar, believes the new welfare technology will be of great help to family members as well. "We feel more secure because my mother-in-law has an alarm that is triggered if she falls. These solutions are wonderful aids for the elderly who want to continue living in their homes," she says.
Materials provided by The Research Council of Norway. Original written by Helga Flatland/Andreas B. Johansen/Else Lie; translation by Connie Stultz/Carol B. Eckmann. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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