In the last few months we discussed on the blog some technologies for the elderly; what those technologies imply for them, what the consequences are, whether we are allowed as youth to force it upon them,… and many more similar issues. In my opinion there is yet a lot to be discussed but as we are limited in time and space and due to the fact that this blog is probably a never ending story, I would like to make a check-up of what we have until now in this final statement. I will try to rephrase the most important statements and technologies and complete them with comments.
In this first paragraph I would like to zoom in on the need for such technologies in the daily lives of the elderly. In the survey posted, we reached the conclusion that the elderly would only let technologies in their lives for medical applications. In general they don’t feel the necessity to have a cell phone (although a large part of the pensioners have one) nor internet (to which only half of them have access). It is Only when the chance of a longer, happy life is in the balance, that they are interested. This is already a first conclusion we can draw: Medical research is promising!
Another part of the discussion that was interesting to me, was the part about privacy of the elderly and whether you can monitor them in such a way that you get to know nearly everything about their activities. This provoked an unfavourable comment, in the sense that it should not be the intention to make a “The Sims: elderly”-game out of their lives. These useful warning mechanisms (example an alarm clock to remind them when they have to take their medication), however, can be of great help. But is there room in our society for an alarm when they leave the house? Or when they go in the bathroom? Those alarms would go to the children or grandchildren of the elderly, so the “youth” knows when they get out or where in the house they are now. In my opinion (and in the general opinion of the blog), this is a violation of privacy. But, then I received a comment, which gave me food for thought: What if your grand father has Alzheimer’s and he leaves the house… This could lead to dangerous situations, in this respect, such an alarm is worth considering.
Another topic of value in this blog was the one about social networking when you are older. In this age Facebook, Twitter, portable phones, MSN, Netlog and many more are widely used all over the world. But the “problem” is, it’s mostly used by youngsters and not by older people. There are many reason for this situation. Young people adept faster, grow up with it, are open for new challenges… Unlike the older, who mostly feel a little more suspicious about all that appears on the Internet. Mostly due to all the things they hear about internet crime, viruses, …the elderly are not really eager to surf the Net. This, however, will change in a couple of years, since a new generation of people is getting older and older. This new generation has “an addiction” to the Internet and to communication. They will thus continue to use this technology.
A fourth important topic contained the financial impact on the whole technology situation. Designing all those new features in the lives of the elderly, costs of course a lot of money. So the question is whether they are willing to give good money for technology. Or are we, engineers, just inventing stuff that, however it would improve their lives, will eventually not be implied because of the high cost. The original post stated that it is mostly the case that people who are not particularly wealthy are more likely to develop a (bad) disease or become handicapped. So even if they would want to use the invented technology, they would not be in the capability of practically using it, precisely because of the insufficient funds. There were, however, comments which disagreed with this statement. There were two extra opinions. One of them made the assertion, that it is mostly retired people that lived their lives wisely and have a lot of money to spend (cf. life-time savings) and thus would be more likely to spend it if increases their comfort. (it means an easier life). The second one claimed that, even if the target group doesn’t have enough money on the bank, there are always social solutions to their problem, such as low-rent wheelchairs, low-charge hearing aids, and other opportunities for the poor.
Also the culture that we live in doesn’t support technology as a life companion. In Europe and America robots are used in industry to make things, to “work in factories”. In Japan, (on the other side), robots are even designed to help people. They are emotionally designed and are made to act like “a person”. But, since all the bloggers lived in Europe, the opinions were divided. There were people who, like me, argued that if a robot could help you in daily life, people wouldn’t hesitate to make use of it. On the other hand, however, there were people who preferred a human hand. That is of course a personal choice, but as we grow older, the technologies will yet improve and improve. I think robots will become more and more human, so that robots will eventually be able to replace human help (to a certain extent).
A last part of my statement I want to spend on the kind of technology that we, as youth, can give to the elderly. It doesn’t always have to be high tech! Even with simple aids an older person can already be saved, such as for example a helpful grabbing device when they get out of the bath or a lift to get on the second floor of their house. To put it briefly: easy things that increase the comfort in your life.
In conclusion of this statement I would like to rephrase all the previous in one nice sentence: “If we really want to help the elderly we, as engineers, have to design easy-to-use, accessible and affordable technologies which the elderly need and which fulfill primarily their medical needs.”