Q&A: Are housing providers ready for a revolution in long term care?

Tim Barclay, CEO at Appello, talks to Ian Spero, Founder of the Agile Ageing Alliance, a social business and campaigning organisation which aims to accelerate development of innovations that improve health and wellbeing in later life, about a forthcoming revolution in long-term care and the impact this will have on housing providers. Could digitally-enabled housing or ‘smart homes’ address the growing challenges and complexities of health and social care for older people?

Tim Barclay (Appello): You have spoken publicly about a revolution in long term care. I’d like to begin by asking you what that means?

Ian Spero (Agile Ageing Alliance): The Long Term Care Revolution was an Innovate UK initiative which in 2012 set out to transform long term care from an end of life institutional model, to a dynamic market of innovative products and services that offer greater choice and flexibility in later life. Beyond this initiative, I think we’d all agree that a revolution in long-term care is an absolute necessity as the current institutional system is neither fit for purpose nor sustainable.

We are already starting to see the baby boomer cohort, those born mid-40s to mid-60s, representing the largest generation of older adults the UK has ever seen, revolutionise what it means to be old. As consumers, they are educated and technologically savvy; and they refuse to be treated as second class citizens.

Their influence and buying power will serve as a catalyst to disrupting long-term health and social care pathways. And, if stakeholders are willing to work more collaboratively, this could give rise to a thriving new ‘Silver Economy’ tailored to meet the specific requirements of sophisticated older consumers.

 

Tim Barclay: It’s not often we hear a positive perspective when it comes to the future of care and housing for the elderly. We know there is increasing demand for housing that meets the specific needs and care requirements of older people. How big a role do you think technology plays in this revolution?

Ian Spero: Technology is the driving force, but we should not see it as the be all and end all. How society responds to an ageing population and how we treat carers – both informal and formal – are key considerations. I also think we need to be less stereotypical in use of language. Rather than this “us” and “them” concept we imagine when we read about “the elderly” why not talk about our “older selves”? Let’s face it – we are all ageing and it makes more sense to think about what we as individuals will want and expect in terms of our lifestyle, care and housing provision in later life.

Our population is expanding, with advancing age and long-term conditions being defining features of a volatile health, social care and housing landscape.

Digitally-enabled health and assistive care solutions are capable of boosting quality of life for an ageing population while simultaneously driving efficiencies in these over-stretched markets. The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics and Robotics are set to transform the way we live.

There are so many opportunities for new technology to improve our homes and neighbourhoods of the future; we’ve only really scratched the surface. To some extent, the smart home movement is paving the way but I’d like to see a particular variant of that model attuned to meeting the needs of older adults.

 

Tim Barclay: When it comes to sheltered or retirement housing, there is still the perception that digitally-enabled health and assistive care means the traditional pull cords or pendant alarms connected to monitoring centres in case of emergency. While these are still essential for many of our customers, technology has the potential to do so much more to improve the quality of life for older adults.

We’re already seeing how the IoT will revolutionise care at home. For example, consumer goods or devices such as smart fridges or sensors on taps are able to monitor whether people are eating and drinking enough and alert monitoring centres or carers if behaviour falls outside the norm. Can you share some more examples of technology that is available today or will be in the near future to improve housing for our older selves?

Ian Spero: We’re finding that consumers are demanding that housing and care providers stop imposing ugly cumbersome devices on them as they age; they are willing to get involved with the design process and start co-creating products that they want to use to support assisted living and agile ageing.

As you say, many technologies are already available and in use in homes, such as devices for maintaining optimum temperature, opening and closing windows, curtains or blinds, turning lights and appliances on and off.

In the relatively near future we expect to see far greater advancements in the development of digitally-enabled ‘Cognitive Homes’. These homes will benefit from intelligent interoperable systems that will support a myriad of plug and play solutions which range from ‘smart floors’that detect falls and signal an alarm to ovens that automatically turn off if they detect burning food.

We also know of a fully automated kitchen that has robotic arms that are able to reproduce the movements of human hands and, therefore, cook anything a human chef can with access to more than 200 recipes.

There are also some fantastic mobility and personal care devises coming to the market including a GPS-enabled intelligent walking stick that uses AI to learn its owners’ regular movements, such as what time they get out of bed; there’s a range of smart hearing aids that can be controlled via a smartphone and connects with smart smoke alarms or doorbells; and my favourite is the Aura Power Suit designed by Yves Behar.

Described by Forbes as the most influential industrial designer in the world, Bahar has partnered with Superflex, a start-up that began in a robotics lab, to create a new category of powered clothing that aims to amplify an individual’s ability to move freely – actually improving muscle strength, balance and coordination. And it looks good too!

 

Tim Barclay: Clearly, today’s digitally-enabled care offers a vastly improved user experience but how receptive are older people to new technologies in their homes?

Ian Spero: Earlier this year we published a white paper, in partnership with retirement home developer McCarthy & Stone and the European Commission, called Neighbourhoods of the Future: Better Homes for Older Adults – Improving Health, Care, Design and Technology. The research suggests that adults in their 70s and 80s appreciate new technologies as long as they are simple to understand and use, and clearly improve their everyday lives.

Feedback from older adults – average age of 80 – suggests they are actually more comfortable than baby boomers with the idea of interacting directly with their home; of having it welcome them, warn them about problems and update them on news and events in the neighbourhood.

Whereas, baby boomers are happier with the idea of managing their home and lives via a mobile phone app. But, most importantly, the two generations are both comfortable with the idea of their home helping keep them healthy, including all round monitoring and security.

 

Tim Barclay: Many will say we’re in the midst of a housing crisis. We know that social housing is underfunded and struggling to meet the increasingly complex needs of an ageing society. Digitally-enabled care could help address these challenges, drive efficiencies and have a positive impact on quality of life for residents.

At Appello, we believe that housing providers that embrace digital are not only making advances in the provision of care but differentiating themselves and unlocking new revenue streams in an increasingly informed and engaged consumer market.

So, if older consumers are embracing new technologies and digital-enabled care why aren’t more housing providers joining the revolution?

Ian Spero: Funding in the housing sector is a big concern. But, it’s not all about stretching the budget.

The Silver Economy is an untapped goldmine. The convergence of potentially game-changing assistive technologies and big data analytics constitutes a golden opportunity to rethink the outlook for ageing populations, especially in terms of housing.

There is an urgent need for more age-friendly housing and retrofitting, as well as innovative new product and service solutions. Now is the time for housing providers to embrace digital.

If they’re willing to listen to prospective customers, we can expect to see the growth of a new breed of smarter homes, enabling our older selves to enjoy more meaningful, healthy lives, in fit-for-purpose environments.

 

Tim Barclay: Beyond recognising the huge market, what do you think the challenges are for housing providers in adopting these products and services?

Ian Spero: I think the biggest challenge is getting various stakeholders to work together more collaboratively. There are myriad initiatives that aim to enable people to maintain their independence in later life for as long as possible.

However, most of these projects have been developed in isolation and would benefit from a more open and collaborative approach. Like most complex challenges, the question of what constitutes an age-friendly home cannot be addressed through the lens of a single discipline.

I’d like to see all stakeholders, especially housing providers, working more collaboratively with technology vendors and those responsible for health and social care to develop solutions that meet the future challenges of an ageing population.

To this end, the Agile Ageing Alliance has joined forces with Microsoft and other major cross-sector stakeholders to co-create a consolidated approach to developing a new marketplace for healthy active living and agile ageing. You can learn more about the Future Open Innovation Challenge in this short video. We’d encourage anyone that wants to get involved to get in touch with us at www.agileageingalliance.org.

You can follow Ian Spero on Twitter: www.twitter.com/IanSpero

 

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