Thursday 15 October 2015, 20:05 | By Adam Hallows
In the News Oct 2015 – Are Friends Electric?
Last month, we told you about CSL’s Ian Spero joining leading Gerentechnologist, Alexander Peine, to speak across Europe on the huge economic potential of the Silver Economy.
One of those events, last month’s Assisted Active Living Forum in Ghent, was described as an “innovation hothouse, doing important work to improve quality of life for our ageing population.”
We think this perfectly describes the importance of these events, which Ian will address in his next blog. To whet your appetites we thought we’d kick off this month’s News Review with one of the projects promoted by the Forum, as it touches upon an issue many revolutionary technologies are facing in this ‘age of innovation’.
THE ETHICS OF AUTOMATION
Designed to improve the wellbeing and autonomy of older adults, robuWALKER is a ‘mobility assistive and companion robot, providing personalised domestic services’. What this means for the individual is having a robot that helps you stand, sit or walk, will monitor your vital signs, contact emergency services if needed and even connect you with the outside world via the internet.
Not quite A.I. yet, but certainly moving closer to answering two questions. Firstly if more of us will live longer, most likely in our homes, what will that ‘look’ like? And secondly, how do we ‘feel’ about having another entity in our home?
As today’s generation grows up with technology touching most, if not all aspects of their lives, then perhaps this won’t be as big an issue for them, but for the rest of us the issue of automation, in particular driverless trains or cars, is becoming an ethical issue as much as a technological one. How do we know they will make the ‘right decision’ when faced by an ethical dilemma? Will it respect the rights of the individual, or ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people?
If we aren’t ready to let doctors help those wanting to decide their own fate, then how will we feel about robots potentially having to make decisions that could affect our lives?
We could possibly look at what we’re happy to do pre-birth for an idea. Crispr-Cas9, or more specifically the power to edit genes is the hot ethical topic right now, but it was the same for IVF, which has become commonplace through practice.
So if cars and trains are helping us accept that automation is our future, and we know what decisions they’ll make when faced with a dilemma, then perhaps by the time robots are commonplace in our homes we’ll be happy to (literally and figuratively) put our lives in their hands.
AGEING CAN BE HARD, WHEREVER YOU LIVE
Speaking of ethical dilemmas, a recent article in eHospice.com discussed a report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman which suggested that, “due to a rapidly ageing population, prisons are increasingly having to take on the roles of care home and hospice.”
Institutions that were built for young, fit men, with stairs, long corridors and narrow cell doors are now having to deal with a population living into their 80’s and 90’s, with complex co-morbidities, limited mobility and cognitive impairments. Yet another headache for the government, balancing justice with dignity.
Although most of us won’t be confined in buildings made over 100 years ago, we will increasingly be ageing in our homes, and despite the UK’s No. 1 global ranking for palliative care, recent findings from the Royal College of Nursing reveal that ‘nine in 10 nurses can’t deliver the “right level” of palliative care’.
Hopefully the work of the World Hospice and Palliative Care Day which focused on those ‘living in unique conditions that often struggle with access to palliative care’ will keep this issue high on the health agenda. Because if we can’t improve how we care for people outside of our institutions, as more of us age with long-term conditions, then robots may be needed much sooner than we realise. Ethically programmed or not.
AGEING ALL OVER THE WORLD
So where can we look for solutions that don’t require ethical debates, drastic institutional restructuring or wider doors? What about some international examples?
A recent study has revealed that ‘the art of Tai chi can help older patients with disabling conditions’. The ancient Chinese system has been found to improve the physical function and muscle strength of people in their mid-50s to their mid-70s with breathing problems, osteoarthritis and heart disease or breast cancer, leading the report’s Canadian authors to say that health professionals should prescribe Tai-Chi for those with these conditions.
Over in Finland, so reports The Guardian, integrated care is the solution, having put themselves at the “cutting edge of attempts across Europe to combat the inefficiencies and duplication of providing care through separate professional ‘silos’”.
“It is something the UK has started to grapple with,” continues the Guardian, “particularly in elderly care, where integrated care “pioneers” in 25 localities are attempting to develop innovative, coordinated methods… But in Finland, integrated services have already gone far beyond elderly care.”
And then what of the arts? What role are they playing in changing the lives of those with conditions such as dementia? In Singapore, where one in 10 people aged 60 and above has dementia, they are attempting to combat this with the arts, and promoting it through a month long event, The Silver Arts 2015 Festival.
Designed to ‘engage and inspire seniors through the arts’, something playwright and author Anne Basting, director of the Centre on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says the arts offer the elderly the opportunity to express themselves irrespective of their illnesses. Which ‘for those with dementia, might be the key to drawing them back into social interaction.’
So The Silver Economy will help finance the much needed revolution in how we manage our changing health, greater integration will better use the services we have already, and getting used to driverless cars might make arriving home to our robots something we look forward to, rather than something a Hollywood tough-guy needs to save us from.
We’ll be back, next month, with more stories looking at the intersection of creativity, technology and health. Until then, make sure to follow us on twitter as we share stories from across the world as they happen.