Caring for the elderly in a perfect storm

Chris McLaughlin considers how technology may right the wrongs of underinvestment

There’s a perfect storm of challenges at present; we have an ageing population, less money in the public purse than ever, less carers and less assisted housing, increased life expectancy and a decrease in people with pensions. It’s a recipe for disaster. Add to that, since the economic crash of 2008, there has been a woeful underinvestment in homes and technology that can help our senior citizens when we should have been spending time and money forecasting the crisis to come and thinking of ways that technology can help.

Housing associations are feeling the pinch as their drive for efficiencies makes the rate of return of each potential solution to the problem a focus. How can they help people whilst still finding the best and most cost effective solution? Getting older shouldn’t mean letting go of our independence! So whilst the number of people requiring assistive care in their senior years grows, the ability to meet those needs is challenged every day. Housing associations are reluctant to invest in expensive solutions, and with years of underinvestment, they should be looking to redress the imbalance now before the problem grows exponentially.

Increasingly technology and the data it generates will provide the ‘lower cost, greater return’ solutions that housing associations have been looking for. There are already systems such as pressure mats that allow data to be collected to track patterns in a person’s behaviour for example, and more importantly flag up an issue where there is a deviation to the norm. That data can be stored centrally in a housing management system like ActiveH and utilised on demand. Equally, technology that provides residents with the freedom to go out and move around without requiring a chaperone, whilst also monitoring where they are to keep them safe is already in existence, but the ability to mine the data that they generate will provide housing associations with the ability to tailor their services accordingly. There are ever increasing health apps, voice activated home solutions, smart meters for utilities – and even robots in some cases to help around the home. They all have a cost associated with them and a return for the investment – each solution has its own merits.

Ultimately it comes down to evaluating each solution and the data it delivers back to the housing association so that it can tailor services to an ageing population and help to keep them safe in their homes. Interpreting that data is easy once it’s collected. Housing management systems can then begin to analyse existing behaviour and predict what comes next. That in turn means residents needs are central to the solution and can be kept safe in their homes.  But I can’t stress the importance of beginning that process now – further delays may mean we witness many more years of trying to make do with what we have, rather than deliver a first class services for our senior citizens.