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Demographic change

IStay@Home: Using technology to assist the ageing population

Europe’s ageing population will increase in the coming decades, according to the EU’s 2012 ‘Ageing’ report. It is estimated that we will see Europe’s population of people over 65 years of age increase from 17% to 30%.

Clearly, this will present major challenges in terms of both economic, social and health related issues for all EU countries.  This issue is also making the agenda within the UK Social Housing and Care sector, because although people may be living longer, it is therefore likely that care and support needs will increase. 

Aareon, Europe’s largest provider of IT solutions to the Housing sector, is the technical partner in the ‘istay@home’ project, which is a project that aims to investigate how information technology can be used to support elderly and disabled people to stay in their own homes, and face challenges such as isolation, mobility, health and wellbeing, security and independence.   

The project consists of nine Housing Associations, two universities and four technology companies from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands.    

Funded in part by the European Regional  Development Fund, the ‘istay@home’ project  has been divided into four phases  The project concludes in 2015, and consideration is being given to the commercialisation of the resulting technologies following the successful pilot phase. 

Phase One of the project was an information gathering exercise which involved the task of gathering a comprehensive list of the challenges that older and disabled tenants face on a daily basis, and also their views on how they felt technology might be able to assist them in their daily lives and mitigate some of those challenges.  This phase was carried out with tenants from the participating Housing Associations.  The key issues that they raised were: 

1) To remain independent in their homes. 2) That they felt increasingly isolated from their relatives and their communities. 

And it was primarily these issues that drove the technological and practical aspects of the project.  It was found that in all participating Housing Associations, intensive support was required from staff to help the residents overcome the fear of technology devices and the internet in general, and in some cases, relatives and carers were involved in the process of induction.

Phase Two of the project involved the evaluation of IT solutions which may be used to form a technology platform – however one interesting aspect of the project was that, at the end of this phase, a catalogue of affordable products was gathered – a core IT platform capable of running on any device, for the use of the tenant, which is also capable of linking to a wide variety of assistive products such as communicative scales, blood pressure monitors, fall alert watches, lighting and heating controllers, energy monitors and a GPS-based person locating tool.  In all over 100 suppliers participated in the evaluation phase of the project and a catalogue of products has been defined from this exercise.  Also key to this phase was finding computer devices that tenants felt comfortable using – tablet PCs for example - and what infrastructure needs their properties had such as viable broadband connections. 

 Phase Three of the project involved training tenants in the new technologies, and realworld testing of the IT platform and the product catalogue in tenants’ homes.  200 Housing Association tenants from five countries took part in the testing phase, which lasted for 12 months and concluded in 2014.  Each Housing Association selected those products that it felt would have the most positive impacts on the sample group of tenants.  A general finding was a low technical ability within the tenant group, but high interest in the concept and the products. 

The IT platform for ‘istay@home’ was developed for the pilot by Aareon, and consists of two parts.  Firstly, a tenant portal which is delivered to any device via the internet.  Optimised to adapt to any screen size, the application requires the tenant to log in and enter their unique password.  Then, a menu enables the tenant to access various services at any time of day or night.  Profile information such as their telephone numbers, email addresses and other details can be viewed and edited.    Any service can be requested from their landlord via an intuitive menu based method, including repair requests for their home.  Available devices can be shown, requested and then connected via the portal – for example the ‘smart’ devices shown above – and the portal then facilitates connect ion and data sharing to and from these devices so, for example, if a certain figure is registered by a connected 

blood pressure monitor, and alert may be sent to a defined health professional.   

What is particularly interesting about the portal is the creation of an exclusive ‘social networking’ tool, on the basis that the network might be relatives, or residents living within the tenant’s block of flats or scheme.  Then, residents can communicate with external contacts or one another by private messaging or video chat, at any time they wish, facilitating a community building approach. Finally, a ‘sharing’ function enables contacts to share video, image and document files with one another – for example, a tenant may be able to receive photographs from a relative from their holidays, without having to use the wider internet which many tenants said they were nervous about doing.  Interestingly, many tenants not only mastered the technology but began asking for more functions and submitting ideas for enhancements to the platform. 

Also core to the software platform is the Cloud-based ‘administration’ portal which is used by the participating Housing Association’s staff to create and manage platform users, to receive requests for services and repairs [and optionally interface this to their Housing Management System if they have one], and to manage any workflow processes that may be triggered by data received from any connected ‘smart’ devices in tenants’ homes

Finally, Phase Four of the project, which concludes in 2015, will be the publication of the refined catalogue of assisted living products and the software solution onto a web portal to make them generally available to the Housing sector and tenants throughout the EU. This phase of the project is currently ongoing, and considerable interest is already being generated from the sector in the relevant countries. 

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