Europe is facing a major societal challenge in the fact of a rapidly increasing ageing population. A key challenge is to find real solutions to ensure that our older citizens are able to live healthy, fulfilling and independent lives whilst keeping health and care systems sustainable. Exciting and groundbreaking EU research and innovation efforts look set to deliver these solutions.
With each passing year, Europeans are living longer. Although this is to be applauded, there will be increasing demands for health, social and informal care services over the coming decades. This will have real effects on how we live, work and shape our external and domestic environments – home, communities, cities and towns.
Questions over who is (or who should be) responsible for health and social care will be at the top of political agendas and concrete answers must be provided. At the same time, the changing age structure of our society can also open up new opportunities for innovation in the digital economy and society.
Setting the policy environment
Policymakers have firmly set their sights on putting cutting-edge technology and digital smart innovations at the heart of their efforts to promote Active and Healthy Ageing. The European Commission, through its Horizon 2020 and FP7 programmes, the Active and Assisted Living Joint Programme
and the European Innovation Partnership for Active and Healthy Ageing
, supports researchers and innovators to develop solutions that can facilitate a shift from acute, hospital-based care to early prevention, community and home-based care.
Crucially, this will allow citizens to take an active role in their own care, empowering them to live truly independent lives as they age.
What started as an effort to identify new technologies capable of assisting elderly people in their everyday lives has turned into an innovative system set to positively disrupt the homecare market.
EU-funded SILVER project aimed to identify new technologies capable of assisting elderly people in their everyday lives, and also develop tools and support awareness within Europe of the PCP process,’ explains programme manager Jon Hazell. ‘We believed that with the use of robotics and related technologies, the elderly can continue independent living at home, even if they have physical or cognitive disabilities.’
Credit; Silver Project
Showcasing innovative solutions
A new CORDIS Results Pack highlights how EU-funded projects are seizing the initiative. Each one has developed or harnessed new technologies or ICT solutions that address the pressing challenges of caring for and assisting European citizens in or approaching their ‘golden years.’
Falls are a major challenge in our ageing society. Around one third of older people fall at least once a year, and falls can have a major debilitating effect on health and mobility while being costly to treat.
An EU-funded project – ISTOPPFALLS – has developed an ‘exergame’ and fall-prevention system, including a risk self-assessment programme, which has been proven to help reduce the fall risk of elderly people.
Wearable technology proven to help stop falls in elderly
Evidence-based results have shown that ISTOPPFALLS technology reduced the overall fall risk of those studied by 34 %, rising to 54 % for participants who used the system a lot. Moreover, results showed that participants with the highest risk of falling benefitted the most,’ said Dr. Rainer Wieching, ISTOPPFALLS project coordinator.
For example, game-changing advances in the rapidly evolving field of robotics. The SILVER
project has mobilised joint Public Procurement of innovation across a number of EU countries to create a robotic, mobile personal assistant designed to help elderly citizens live independently at home.
project meanwhile is pioneering advances in Human Robot Interaction to support patients suffering from debilitating cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
The EU-funded MARIO project is developing a companion robot that builds resilience and reduces loneliness and isolation in older people with dementia. The aim is to generate fully operational units by 2018, ready to assist patients and caregivers alike across the EU.
Other projects have created devices and solutions for the prevention and detection of falls. The FATE project set the groundwork for the commercialisation of a portable fall detector that can be worn on a belt with all user/device interactions carried out through an easy-to-use Android app. The IDONTFALL and ISTOPPFALLS projects have also provided solutions and platforms that will help to guarantee the physical safety of older persons.
New high tech solutions to detect falls and prevent injuries will enable health providers to more efficiently and cost effectively monitor patients, and equip potential fallers with the most appropriate devices.
Credit: © I-DONT-FALL
The EU-funded I-DONT-FALL
project was launched in April 2012 to deploy, pilot and evaluate a range of innovations to detect falls and prevent injuries. Project partners provided innovative solutions that were then integrated into a platform; these were then tested by over 500 elderly patients across Europe. A new, remote, multi-parametric management system that supplies adaptive feedback on people with cognitive impairment promises to be a lifeline to a more independent lifestyle.
The EU-funded DEM@CARE project has developed a closed-loop management solution for people with early or mild-stage dementia through multi-parametric remote monitoring and individually tailored analysis of physiological, behavioural and lifestyle measurements.
Many of the smart devices and technological infrastructure developed as part of the EU-funded FARSEEING project is now being used by new companies and research initiatives aimed at helping Europe’s ageing population live active, healthy and independent lives.
Credit; © FARSEEING
Thanks to an array of smart devices and applications geared specifically towards the needs of senior citizens, Europe’s ageing population can continue to live the life they want throughout their golden years. Take falling as an example. Not so long ago, just the mere risk of a fall could be detrimental to one’s overall well-being – with many elderly citizens opting to give up independent living in favour of a nursing home as a way to mitigate the risk. But as a result of the FARSEEING project’s innovative technology, the elderly can now depend on smart devices to better predict and prevent falls.
A European start-up is currently commercialising an innovative ICT-based portable fall detector for the elderly, designed to facilitate independent living and improve quality of life. The concept was developed and trialled through the highly successful EU-funded FATE project.
Credit: © FATE
‘The key objective throughout this project was to bring to market an innovative new product or competitive service that would truly benefit end users,’ explains project coordinator Joan Cabestany from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Spain. ‘The pilot tests we ran in three countries – Spain, Italy and Ireland – demonstrated the effectiveness of our solution, and this provided us with enough confidence to translate the prototype into a commercial product.’
Finally, the ALFRED project has integrated robotic and online components, including a mobile, personalized Butler, into a fully functional system that will provide context-sensitive services related to social inclusion, care, physical exercise and cognitive games.
The EU-funded ALFRED project has developed a mobile, personalised assistant for older people that helps them to stay independent, that coordinates with carers and fosters the social inclusion for the elderly.
Credit: © ALFRED
The project has realised a mobile, personalised Butler, created using cutting-edge technologies that will thus ensure that it would be easy-to-use for older people who may not be so technologically confident, and will provide context-sensitive services related to social inclusion, care, physical exercise and cognitive games.
Dr Sven Abels, the ALFRED project coordinator, is extremely pleased with the key results and innovations of the project. ‘ALFRED achieved a large amount of key technology results, including excellence in voice interaction (allowing older people to talk directly to the ALFRED Butler), serious games, data storage, and many other domains,’ he commented.
The eight projects within this Results Pack have shown the way forward on how social and digital innovation have crucial roles to play in integrating health and social care and promoting social transformation.
The projects are providing the building blocks for a viable ‘Silver Economy’ that will substantially improve quality of life and provide added value for health and care systems that meet the needs of the 21st Century.
Contacts and sources: