Our recent interactions with a group of seniors living by themselves in Singapore have brought in front of us certain key insights and triggered our thoughts on what could be the future of society.
But first, a run-through of the daily life from an average senior around 80 years old, as we observed it.
He wakes leisurely before indulging in 15 – 30 minutes of physical exercises. He speaks to only certain family members once or twice a week. He does not step out of his houses very often, for the fear of inviting unnecessary expenses and the lack of information of relevant activities to indulge in. Most importantly, it’s difficult for him to identify people with similar interests to be in regular contact with. He does not believe in monitoring devices and webcams, despite facing emergency situations such as bad falls and receiving help only days later. Our assessment of the situation also suggests that he is now habituated to living in solitude and a lesser productive environment.
In countries with a high ageing population, this is the typical case of any aged person. According to a WHO report, the population of the world above 60 years old will be 2.1 billion in 2050, and those above 80-year-olds will triple to 434 million by then. It is still a challenge to solve in entirety the assurance of their physical well-being, let alone their emotional well-being. And this problem has two faces – one specifically about the elderly, the other about the family that monitors them.
What could typically solve the problem of providing physical assistance, continuous monitoring, connect with the world outside and be a companion?
Care-giving societies and nursing services have been around for a while now to provide mobility solutions and health care on a regular basis. However, these options are engaged once problems are identified. What if the future of the modern day society could be redefined by technology? What if apart from solving everyday problems, the technology could also bring about a smoother transition into the next phase of life?
In the last 10 years, terms such as ‘robotic care’ and ‘ambient assistive living’ are becoming popular, indicating that tackling one’s physical, financial and even emotional needs could predominantly lie in the hands of an artificial assistive care form. With more governments investing into smart nations, it could become normal for every house to be a smart home and detect the physical well-being of residents, automatically relaying this information to the next-of-kin, thereby addressing key needs of the ageing society. Wearable tech gadgets with smart personal assistants could “talk” to the senior, being his or her companion in meals, exercises and in building cognitive fitness.
During the course of the project, we have had the privilege to interact with organisations that work in this area. SoundEye is one such device that automatically monitors daily movements and raises emergency alarms when things aren’t right.
Meanwhile, these devices could be used to make lives easier for the family by periodically tracking health reports, GPS monitoring for dementia and relay events to bring everyone together. Technology can promote tackling problems of ageing collectively and build a connected ageing framework within the society.
Written by Aparna Mahadevan