Technology has kept people connected during 2020 like never before. While grandparents may have had to go for months without getting a hug from their grandchildren, they have still been able to explore a whole new world of digital connections for keeping in touch with their families.
Words like “Zoom”, “Facetime”, and “WhatsApp” have entered the older generations’ vocabulary, with grandparents mastering how to share photographs, watch videos, and even unmute themselves during family quizzes. Online tasks that seemed out of reach just a few months ago have now become commonplace in households around the country.
That adoption of technology will become even more important in the years ahead as Scotland’s demographics shift. By 2039, more than 800,000 Scots will be over 75, a rise of 85 per cent from today’s level.
Families – and politicians – want older people to be able to live independently in their own homes for as long as they can, enjoying the best possible standard of living in safety by knowing that help is at hand if it’s needed. And technology will help that wish to become reality for hundreds of thousands of Scots.
“The opportunities are really exciting,” says Elaine Doherty, regional lead for Scotland and the north east of England at CityFibre, the UK’s third largest network infrastructure provider. “Assistive technology can help people to improve their independence, safety, and wellbeing.”
Those pieces of assistive technology can take many different forms. For example, having a sensor in a kettle can monitor if someone with dementia has stuck to their routine by making their morning brew at seven o’clock.
If they haven’t turned on the kettle then another piece of technology in the house – whether it’s a home assistant like Alexa or a tablet computer like an iPad – can be set to give them an audio or visual reminder. If the kettle still doesn’t get switched on or the person doesn’t cancel the notification then a relative or carer could be alerted to check that everything’s ok.
For people living in sheltered housing or retirement homes, technology could also help to monitor their safety. Underfloor sensors could detect if someone has fallen over and remained on the ground or door alarms could alert wardens or other care staff if people leave the building unexpectedly.
“All those sensors and other pieces of communicating technology need to run over a really-reliable, bandwidth-heavy network,” points out Doherty. “Having that network means two things can happen – all those pieces of technology can talk to each other, and all their data can be shared in the cloud, allowing artificial intelligence (AI) to spot patterns and take action if needed.”
Having optical fibres installed in each street – which use rays of light travelling down tiny glass tubes to carry data instead of electrical signals along traditional copper wires – will underpin the rollout of assisted living technology. Existing copper telephone wires just won’t be able to cope with the number of signals needed to help people live independently.
It’s not simply older people who will benefit from assisted living either. Wearable devices could be used to monitor conditions such as diabetes and give users prompts when needed or connect them to healthcare professionals when appropriate.
Scotland is at the forefront of developing the assistive technology that will improve lives. The National Robotarium being built at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh will include a focus on how robots can be used in both healthcare and assisted living.
Heriot-Watt is already developing wireless and robotic systems to help with the rehabilitation of people who have had a stroke, knee-replacement surgery, or a serious fall. Next steps include the creation of the world’s first open and remote access living laboratory at the Robotarium to enable collaborations with partners further afield.
Meanwhile, insurance firm Legal & General has teamed up with the University of Edinburgh to launch the Advanced Care Research Centre. The centre will aims to embed data science, artificial intelligence, assistive technologies, and robotics into personalised care.
For more than 25 years, the Dementia Services Development Centre, based at the University of Stirling, has been at the forefront of not only designing homes to help people with dementia but also incorporating technology that will aid assisted living. The centre has a design and technology suite that demonstrates how technology can be incorporated into homes. [link to https://dementia.stir.ac.uk/design/design-and-technology-suite]
South of the Border, CityFibre is testing internet of things (IoT) technology with Cross Keys Homes, Peterborough’s largest social housing provider. A variety of sensors have been installed in homes to monitor factors including humidity and condensation as a way of helping people with asthma and other health issues and cutting the risk of damp.
Temperature sensors make sure that the homes aren’t too hot or too cold for residents, while heat and smoke detectors monitor for fires, and carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide sensors have also been installed. “All those sensors can communicate with each other thanks to fibre connections,” adds Doherty.
“Linking them back to Cross Keys Homes means they can make early interventions if they’re needed. These IoT devices will not only enhance people’s lives but also help older people to live safely in their own homes for longer.”