Technology can reduce loneliness among seniors

In these times of lockdown, shielding and social distancing, loneliness and isolation can increase. Often the vulnerable groups are hit the hardest, and we do not know for how long the pandemic will last or what the real consequences will be. 

Although we are living longer and more people are aged 70+, the lack of social contact is a real threat to the wellbeing of seniors.  As the UN Secretary Antonio Guterres recently said: The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world. Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation”.

At the same time, Europe’s healthcare systems will be facing serious challenges in the years to come. An ageing population, increasing requirements in chronic care treatment, rise in public spending and a scarcity of home-care workers, are leading to shifting healthcare needs and intensifying pressure on our healthcare systems.

Given the above, we must look at different solutions to ensure good care. It is worrying that implementation of new technology is often overlooked in the care of older people. It is important to remember that implementing new technology it is not a matter of completely replacing staff with robots. The human factor in care can never be replaced. Instead it is about reallocation and freeing up resources and use them in best scenarios and where they make a difference most.

Rise in public spending

Public spending on health and long-term care is steadily rising in the EU member states and the trend is expected to continue. In 2017, healthcare spending accounted for 9.6 percent of GDP in the EU, an increase of 0.8 percent from 2008. Projections based on a number of assumptions of public spending are regularly carried out by the Ageing Working Group of the Economic Policy Committee (AWG). Social costs can be significantly reduced if more elderly people can stay at home longer and if the homecare service is relieved. Technology Enabled Care is key to making this possible.

One smart example of Technology Enabled Care is virtual “check-in”. Instead of home-care staff physically visiting a user at night, the user can be checked-in on via a camera, which is only activated at certain times or when required. The virtual check-in is carried out solely by authorised personnel. The senior often experiences more freedom and is more in control of their everyday life.

Elderly who need nightly checks can feel distressed by physical visits, something that often leads to an increased need of aid and assistance. A better night’s sleep provides more energy during the day and can lead to increased independence and wellbeing in the longer term.

The benefit of virtual check-ins is that is saves/reallocates time and money both for staff and the local authority. According to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), the local authority saves between SEK 10,000 and 30,000 per person each year when cameras are used for the nightly check-ins, if a person doesn’t need other aid during the night. These are resources that can be reallocated to other activities, for example during the day to increase the senior's quality of life. Virtual check-in is just one initiative, there are many more that can contribute in the same way.

In Careium’s report “Tech as a solution to the silver tsunami”, we have identified four areas that need to be addressed for technology to be part of the solution:

  1. The chain of care

It takes too long to implement new products and solutions and today's outdated legislation is an obstacle. We need legislation that takes advantage of technological opportunities and promotes innovation.

  1. Technophobia

Studies show that many employees see technology as a threat and not an opportunity. In addition, they are often not involved when new technology is to be purchased. Good leadership and trust are required to create change.

  1. Expansion of broadband

An expanded broadband network is crucial for many products to work. Well-functioning broadband must be available.

  1. The individual

Finally, let's not forget the people who really matter. Everyone whose life can be made both easier and better with innovative solutions. It is for them that we do this, and it is their needs that we should focus on.

If we succeed in addressing these areas in a good way, we are one step closer to a long-term solution to the challenges we face with an aging population. Technology has a crucial role to play in order to be able to solve staffing issues and to staff where it is really makes a difference, but also to offer direct contact without having physical contact. The pandemic has accelerated the need for a change we would have been likely to make anyway. Let us seize the opportunity and start using smart technology to help our seniors. The Silver Tsunami is here, there is no time to wait.