Ambient-assisted living: how ICT assists the elderly in the 21st century

02 February 2011 Author: EIFonline

The ageing population is a fact. We are looking at a future were the number of people over 65 will double, and the number of people over 80 will triple. In the context of the recently launched European Commission Consultation on active and healthy ageing, the EIF debate on 'Ambient-Assisted Living: Ageing in the 21st Century' on 2 February focused on how new Information and Communication Technologies can be instrumental in enhancing the quality of life of the elderly.

The statistics speak for themselves. A tsunami of elderly people is on the horizon, and our current healthcare systems cannot handle this as we could do it in the past. The traditional care for the elderly will not be possible because of an outflow of care people who will reach old age themselves, and who will not be replaced by people at the same level. In essence, there will not be enough care takers to take care.

ICT can bring a huge benefit to this care cycle by making it more efficient and ensuring faster circulation of information. The Ambient-Assisted Living industry is an entirely new one. It will be an industry of people caring for other people, with the help of ICT. ICT will for instance enable to effectively manage the networks of people that are going to assist the elderly.

The technology is no longer an issue, the necessary devices and tools exist today. The challenge however is to get these systems into the homes of people. The obstacles are that there are no large scale actors in this field yet. France Telecom has been experimenting for 10 years with such technology but assessed that there needs to be more structure in this market for it to be a success. A fragmented industry is an obstacle for deployment of the information technology. There is such a real need for large customers to partner, and in that way develop the services. Small actors simply do not have the financial or intellectual power to create the large systems needed.

The recent European Innovation Partnership (EIP) focuses on increasing the productivity of care workers by using technology. The EU is trying to do this in partnership with its U.S. colleagues. The aims of the Partnership are to create a sustainable healthcare system, with better patient care, and to create markets for a whole new range of industries. At the same time, the Commission is trying to bring together a multidisciplinary approach where privacy, procurement, regional policy and all stakeholders are part of an integrated plan. The idea is to pool resources together in order to achieve the market and to ensure wide deployment.

The EIP will offer a framework of international cooperation. If Europe manages to bring its power together to create an industry that is new in the world, this can become a worldwide market.

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