BCS is a registered charity: No 292786
28 March 2007
Low birth rates and a potential future shortage of carers could mean elderly people having to rely more on 'virtual' care, according to an expert speaking at an event organised by the British Computer Society (BCS). Around 50 forms of help - ranging from motion-activated lights to a fully-fledged robotic companion who could advise, interact and even entertain older people - could be the solution to the care burden predicted in years to come, Dr Kevin Doughty, deputy director of York University's Centre for Usable Home Technology told members of the BCS's specialist Northern health informatics group.
By 2025 the ratio of adults of working age to those of retirement age is expected to be just 2.5.
Dr Doughty, who ran a residential care home for six years, said: "With falling birth rates and an ageing population, the number of people able to look after the elderly is falling and will continue to fall. By using technology we will not only be able to support the elderly more efficiently, but they will be able to stay in their own homes and maintain a level of independence."
Such assistive technology could be as basic as automatic alerts to help elderly people detect dangerous situations, or a more complex 'tele-presence' system that enables them to virtually visit shops, friends or go to church. More radical solutions could involve hug suits that simulate physical contact, or perhaps computer generated friends, suggested Dr Doughty.
Benefits include fewer numbers of elderly people going into residential homes, as well as fewer hospital beds needed by older people, and fewer staff required to manage the patients in them.
Dr Doughty concludes: "We only need to look to Japan to see what robots can do. There they have robots to dispense medicines, walk dogs and even carry a person to a bath.
"Investing in this area now will mean we will all benefit in the future."
Dr Tom Sharpe, chairman of the specialist group, says: "Although there are possible risks as well as benefits, we have a vested interest in seeing this work succeed as we all grow older. As members of the BCS it behoves us to come to grips with the issues now and promote appropriate use of telecare for everybody's benefit."
The full report of the meeting has been printed in this month's edition of the BCS's Health Informatics Now magazine.