Most elderly people are quite content. They’ll often cite the hard-earned wisdom they’ve gained and the luxury of enjoying a peaceful retirement as the main reasons why getting older is to be embraced, rather than feared.
However, anyone with an elderly parent or relative knows that old age also comes with hardships. Thankfully, technology is already empowering the elderly by allowing them to stay in their homes for longer.
● Panic buttons and pendants are commonly used to allow people to call for help from emergency services or family members.
● Electronic medicine dispensers, reminder clocks and mobile apps allow the elderly to stay on top of their health etc. as well as tackling memory loss.
● Even loneliness can be alleviated through user-friendly smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers, allowing elderly people to chat to friends, relatives or healthcare professionals in minutes.
However, computers and smartphones are not suitable for all groups. Around 85% of the over 75s don’t have access to a smartphone and don’t intend to. Hence the need for far more advanced technologies such as AI-based assistive tech which already allows a lot of older people to live in relative independence.
Care homes and the UK’s care crisis
It’s well-known that UK social care is chronically underfunded, and elderly people are suffering as a result.
University College London and the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust published a shocking study in March, which found abuse to be taking place in 99 per cent of care homes.
Abuse was common at care homes with a high rate of “staff burnout”, which also highlights the ramifications of an overworked and underpaid workforce – particularly when they are caring for others.
Sadly, the risk of injury is often so great that vulnerable elderly people are unable to live alone. Demand for care home places is set to swell by more than three quarters by 2035, according to a paper published in The Lancet medical journal.
For most, the prospect of giving up one’s home and moving into care is heartbreaking. An NHS England report last year revealed that almost half of all older people in care homes are depressed, yet believe that this is a “normal part of ageing”.
Understandably, just three per cent of adults would choose a residential home as their ideal option, according to a Consultus Care and Nursing report, but are overwhelmingly left without a choice.
AI-based assistive technology – an alternative to care homes
It’s far from ideal when someone works all their life to pay their mortgage, and finds when they finally get to retire and fully enjoy their home, they’re forced to move to a care home because they become a bit frail. Older people often move to a care home to provide peace of mind to their children.
However, new, AI-based assistive technology is able to reduce considerably the likelihood of injury and the risks of living at alone all while costing considerably less than the use of a care home.
All too often, elderly people suffer an injury, a fall, or another incident that leave them immobile. Indeed, this happened to my late grandmother when she fell at home, fractured her hip and wasn’t found until the next morning.
Panic buttons and pendants are one way for the older person to alert the emergency services or family members.
Sometimes the risk involves memory loss, when people forget to take their medicine, or take more than the required dose, for example. Now, electronic medicine dispensers, reminder clocks and mobile apps make it effortless for people to keep track of when to do so.
Other telecare and telehealth devices such as blood pressure monitors, electronic scales and oximeters and other devices have been brought into the 21st century, with new portable versions that come with their own mobile apps, allowing the user and their family to easily monitor health and vitals.
Memory loss can also be an issue when using potentially dangerous items such as cookers, irons and other such appliances.
Devices, such as Inirv React, can connect cookers to a sensor in your home and to a smartphone app, automatically turning it off if it hasn’t detected motion for a long time.
By using the data picked up from the motion sensor and the sensor on the cooker, the user is reminded to return to the kitchen if the cooker unattended. Otherwise, a carer or family member is alerted if there is a risk of a fire.
Smart tech is also helping older people to overcome the challenges caused by immobility. While the introduction of stair lifts was nothing short of a revolution for elderly people with stairs in their homes, it is possible to have a ‘smart home’ with a range of assistive technologies.
Robot vacuum cleaners, smartphone-controlled lights, doors and thermostats are already making living at home far more manageable. Or, for full independence and peace of mind, tiny sensors can be placed across the home to identify certain factors such as movement.
miiCare – often dubbed ‘Alexa for the elderly’ – is an example of how technology can be used in this way and is a novel use of AI in the care sector. Such technology can be used to predict and prevent the onset of health problems, falls and other accidents, and to alert the right people so they can assist.
This is a better way to ensure privacy, rather than the intrusive alternative of cameras.
By using tiny sensors placed on the wall, miiCare can monitor motion, temperature and humidity, which can detect accidents, such as falls, and other risks, such as fires. This data is then encrypted and uploaded on a secure database, provided by Amazon Web Services.
miiCare also records the vitals of users – such as their heart rate and blood pressure. It can thereby detect the onset of conditions such as arrhythmia. It also acts as a voice-activated home security and entertainment system and can even be linked to a call centre staffed by health professionals.
The future of AI-based home care tech
Technology can make home life easier for elderly people in a variety of different ways. And, considering how fast it evolves, I’m confident that technology will play a huge role in tackling the UK’s care crisis, as well as many global healthcare challenges.
Technology in the care model is already becoming 'reactive', rather than 'preventative'. Early diagnostics allow the appropriate treatment plan to be put in place early enough to prevent the escalation of an illness to life-threatening conditions.
AI-based home care tech is also motivating people to lead a healthier lifestyle by performing simple tasks such as reminders to hydrate, eat on time, take medication, keep active, and other small, yet transformative actions.
Perhaps as soon as 2050, the roles of care homes and care workers will be diminished by advanced, AI-led assistive technology. I hope that such tech will allow older people to keep living in their own homes.
Elderly people are already able to stay at home far longer than we could imagine ten years ago. With a little help from technology, we can all hope to retain independence in our old age - another great reason to look forward to our golden years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelvin Summoogum, Founder and CEO of miiCare, a tech start-up which uses an innovative AI-based solution to give elderly people the choice to live independently in their own homes.
It mimics some of the human basic senses to create situational awareness and understand the health of a person, meaning that panic buttons or pendants are no longer required.
Summoogum lost his grandmother from a hip fracture, following a fall at home. Help was only provided the next morning after hours spent in pain and agony.
Often dubbed ‘the Amazon Echo for the elderly’, miiCare uses miiCUBE, an AI-powered assistive technology solution, which links with an ecosystem of sensors, wearable devices and telehealth equipment.
As well as monitoring movement and the use of appliances, miiCare records the vitals of users – allowing for the early depiction of illnesses – acts as a voice-activated home security and entertainment system, and is even linked to a call centre of health professionals.
Twitter: : https://twitter.com/miiCAREuk
In fact, around 85% of the over 75s don’t have access to a smartphone
Almost half of all older people in care homes are depressed, yet believe that this is just a “normal part of ageing”: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/elder/12156889/Almost-half-of-all-older-people-in-care-homes-are-depressed-and-think-condition-is-a-normal-part-of-ageing.html
UCL and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust study finds abuse in 99 per cent of care homes: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/care-homes-abuse-residents-funding-staff-uk-elderly-protection-a8266936.html
Demand for care home places is set to swell by more than three quarters by 2035: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/care-home-demand-soars-86-two-decades-elderly-lancet-a7895046.html
3 per cent would choose a residential home as their ideal option: https://www.consultuscare.com/media/1276/care-choice-gap-report.pdf