Karina Marcus | Director at Ambient Assisted Living joint programme

Typography

The scenario is similar across European countries: the higher standards in the quality of life, combined with the advances in healthcare, makes the population live much longer- but the third age brings a whole array of health complications with it.

What can new technologies and innovation do to ensure that the last stage of our life is also a pleasant one? An organization known as Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) has been working for quite some time in this area.


 

For those who hadn´t heard about your organization before, can you describe the nature and goals of AAL?

The organization started as a project in 2008, based on the standards of collaborative efforts in innovation, where we would offer health solutions based on communication, information and technology (what we commonly shorter as ICT) so that we could improve the life quality of ageing patients. We try to accomplish this goal improving mobility, access to information, enabling a more independent living, and so on. As of now, we have funded over 150 projects, and when the second phase (which started in 2014) concludes we hope to see this number raise to 210.

 

One of Europe´s main problems regarding healthcare is the fast ageing of its population. Since AAL is a collaborative organization, what sources do you work with to get your data?

We look very closely at data published by organizations such as the WHO or Eurostat. Of course, we also keep a close eye on organizations similar to ourselves and we try our best to share that data. We get most of our conclusions from data based on daily habits, the patterns of the ageing itself and the use that the population makes of ICT devices. We also realize that the solutions that we bring, at a European level, can only work if everyone accepts them. This may become a problem because, for instance, the extent of use of ICT may not be the same in the Mediterranean countries than in the northern ones or rural areas, something which makes it harder to implement a common standard. 

 

Prevention can do wonders for the budget allocated for healthcare, and it is an area in which ICT are especially efficient

 

One of the mottos of AAL is “ICT for ageing well”. In your experience, what can technologies and innovation offer to promote a healthier ageing?

To begin with, ICT can simplify a lot of things by, for example, turning manual processes into automated ones. In the years to come, there will probably be a shortage of carekeepers for the elderly, and a possible solution is to use ICT to provide some of the services that these workers would usually supply. For example, some of the least important but most time-consuming like routine checks could be performed via ICT or monitoring machines, which would also have the positive impact of giving more time for these healthcare specialist to devote to more critical activities. In addition, the use of ICT could help the patients to order their medicines in a quicker, more efficient manner, thus reducing their possible mobility impairments.

 

ICT for ageing well

 

So far we have talked about these innovations from the point of view of the patients and the people, but what about the professionals and the medics? What can ICT do for them, and for the companies working in the sector?

ICT in healthcare definitely offers a lot of opportunities, both for the public and the private system. In the case of the public sector, the system may not be able to cope with the increasing number of ageing patients, and here is where MHealth and eHealth can make all the difference to provide the services that the patients require at a much affordable cost for the institutions. Prevention can also do wonders for the budget allocated for healthcare, and it is an area in which ICT are especially efficient. On the side of the consumer market, people may be more and more interested in acquiring gadgets to have a certain degree of control over their own healthcare, in aspects such as blood pressure, diet habits, exercise… These kinds of applications are becoming more and more popular over time. There may even be an opportunity on the side of insurance companies to offer bonuses to their clients if they take part in their own healthcare routines. 

 

It is clear that these technologies and gadgets can improve the physical aspect of healthcare. But what about the mental or emotional side? How can mHealth or eHealth help to cope with some problems often related to ageing, like depression or loneliness?

Many of said effects come from the lack of contact or communication with their beloved or doctors. In this sense, mHealth gadgets can help people in reaching out to others, feeling more accompanied even when it is by other patients or medics.

Is there any kind of common strategy, at a European level, that institutions are working on to achieve a kinder, more efficient and affordable healthcare?

There are some joint, especially at a research level, but possibly the most relevant one is the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy ageing, that is going to be very productive for countries in order to share their data and results and to learn from one another. to see what kind of solutions can be deployed transversally and the different results when they are implemented in cities or in the countryside.

 

Is there any kind of common strategy, at a European level, that institutions are working on to achieve a kinder, more efficient and affordable healthcare?

There are some joint, especially at a research level, but possibly the most relevant one is the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy ageing, that is going to be very productive for countries in order to share their data and results and to learn from one another. to see what kind of solutions can be deployed transversally and the different results when they are implemented in cities or in the countryside.