Last week I gave a keynote speech on The Future of Technology in Aged Care at the Aged Care Association Annual Congress. In this case I wanted to take the audience on a big-picture journey into where aged care is going, which went down very well between the many high-detail presentations at the conference.
I was invited as a general futurist, though I have in fact written and being interviewed on the topic of aged care frequently before, particularly on the role of robots in aged care, including in a feature article in Newsday.
Below is a brief snapshot of five key facets of how technology will transform aged care.
Health care is being transformed by connectivity. This ranges from simple applications such as monitoring medical data through to remote surgery, bringing the skills of the best doctors anywhere in the world. Accenture’s Online Medicine Cabinet is an example of how patients and the elderly can have their health monitored from home, and their medications managed effectively. Now robots such as the one in the video above can visit patients or do rounds in the ward, linking them directly by video to doctors or nurses.
2. Care robots
Japan is in the vanguard in using robots in aged care, being at the most pointed confluence globally of a rapidly aging population and a lack of health care workers. Increasingly the basic work and functions – both at aged care institutions and in people’s homes – will be performed by robots, or in some cases, such as in the video above, by people assisted by robots or exoskeletons.
3. Emotional robots
As I’ve discussed often before, we will become increasingly emotionally engaged with robots. Paro the seal robot, which I first wrote about in 2004, is being used to help the elderly, people with Alzheimers and schizophrenia, and sick children. The first video above shows Paro being used in therapy, including of a Japanese Prime Minister. The second video reports on a recent study by St Louis University which showed that the robotic dog Aibo was as helpful as a real dog in helping seniors to feel good and engage with the world around them.
While younger people have tended to take up social networks more than the elderly, most people underestimate how many old people are engaged in online communication with their family and peers. Over two years ago, 18% of Americans over 65 had shared content onlne, with photo sharing common in this demographic. The key thing that will allow elderly people to engage in technology is easier interfaces. As shown in this video, new interfaces such as that on the iPhone make access to technology far easier. We can expect social networks for the aged to grow rapidly, for example the Grandparents Network described at the Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration conference I chaired earlier this week.
5. Getting better
Technology should not just ameliorate our problems, it should make us better. Technology, including games, can help us to keep our minds alert and engaged, which has been demonstrated to delay dementia. Beyond this, a whole array of new technologies will give us more possibilities as humans, especially in enabling our thoughts to get things done. The technologies that now allow this monkey to control a robot arm remotely will enable both the handicapped and everyone else to control their lives more effectively.