We are all getting older! Figures from the Office for National Statistics show 18% of people are aged 65 and over, with 2.4% aged 85 and over. This increase in the senior population means more planning and provisions to aid comfortable and safe living. There can be other issues too, isolation for older people is an increasing worry – so much so that the UK Government appointed Tracey Crouch as the ‘Minister for Loneliness’ in January 2018.
The role of technology
Whilst there is no substitute for physical human contact, technology will undoubtedly need to play an even bigger part in catering for the needs of an aging population. But what are the solutions for seniors who not only choose to live alone, but are physically able to live alone? How is social isolation combated in these instances?
Artifical inteligence and robots are becoming part of our daily lives, with the trend continuing into our old age. ‘Stevie’ the robot has been designed to assist elderly people and to make it easier for them to communicate and ask for assistance. While BUDDY, provides simple social interaction through Skype and Facetime. It can also remind its owner about upcoming events, medication needs, appointments and deliveries, whilst detecting falls and unusual activity.
Pets play an important companion role, but its not always possible to own a dog or cat. A US project dubbed ARIES (Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support) aims to develop artificially intelligent ‘cats’ and ‘dogs’ that can help older people and those with mild dementia remember important tasks.
The MiRo robotic dog also offers pill regimen management, companionship and appointment reminders, whilst monitoring general health. Additionally, the Paro ‘seal pup’ has been used in Japanese care homes since 2003 and responds with lifelike movements to tactile stimuli, whilst recognising temperature, posture, and light.
A vital link
Technology continues to ensure the feeling of safety and availability through alarms and live monitoring to help care staff and residents keep in touch. On a more personal level, technology can provide routine communications and interaction between elderly people, their peers and family, as well as the wider community, to help combat isolation.
For example, the Speaking Exchange is a US initiative that connects retired people living in care homes with students learning English in Brazil, via Skype. Closer to home, the UK offers a similar service called Granny Cloud, that puts retired people in touch with children in India.
Age UK states there are almost a million older people in the UK living desperately lonely lives. One of their recommendations to beat loneliness in later life, is not about technology, but through their befriending service. It’s easy to volunteer, visit www.ageuk.org.uk/services/befriending-services/