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From Dull Existence to a Life Worth Living - How Technology Can Transform Old People's Lives

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'I was in absolute agony' 93 year old Jessie tells me, "lying on the floor..unable to get up..I kept calling out but no one could hear me.."

I listen attentively to her breaking voice as she recalls last night's distressing events when just before 11pm, while in her bathroom, Jessie lost her balance and fell down. 

'My legs were too weak to move and I just couldn't pull myself up' she says.

'Cold and utterly miserable' she called out for help but none of the neighbors could hear her faint cries. 

'I was on the floor for six and a half hours..' she tells me with great sadness, 'I couldn't reach the emergency cord or a towel to cover myself with..it was just awful..lucky the carer came in the morning..'

Jessie lives alone and often forgets to wear her emergency necklace. I wonder what can be done to increase her overall safety and ensure she gets immediate assistance should she fall again. I turn to O2 Health's Jake Griffiths for insight into how different types of assistive care, such as mobile technology could help people with long term conditions.

'Unfortunately' says Griffiths, 'there are many other people in the UK who owing to long-term health conditions and old age, lose their independence.. currently there are around 15 million people over 60 in the UK with one or more long-term conditions which is set to increase by 23% over the next 25 years'.
 
'While it is clear that the elderly rightly need and deserve one-to-one personal care' he explains, 'mobile care support can allow people to have more independence and freedom in their day-to-day lives.. fall down detectors and support buttons which can link to 24 hour support centers are a good example..they can ensure peace of mind for the people that use them whilst putting their families and carers at ease.'
 
'Loss of independence is tough' I remark, 'many find constantly depending on others for support very hard, at times impossible to adjust to..' 

'These new technologies can help' replies Griffiths, 'they can make people feel more confident to carry out simple daily tasks independently, giving them reassurance that someone is on hand to help at the touch of a button should anything go wrong..those able to step out of their home, would benefit from mobile care with location services which mean individuals can contact a support centre at any time. Importantly, with GPS technology vulnerable individuals can be easily located..'. There is even a possibility for families to define safe zones so if the individual moves out of this zone, the receiving centre is alerted and staff can take the appropriate action.

Technology is a liberator. We need to encourage older people to open up to new technology for their immediate physical safety but also to improve their wellbeing. A fall down detector would have spared Jessie an agonizing night on her bathroom floor, with location services families can encourage elderly relatives to step outside the home safe in the knowledge they can be traced if they get disoriented and lose their way.

Countess immobile elderly people miss going to church, shops, the supermarket and the library. Eighty six year old Margaret tells me how her deteriorating eye sight meant she had to give up driving and 'my freedom' several years ago, 'I still haven't come to terms with it' she adds. 

'I cannot bring the church to you' I tell her 'but you do realize you can order your food online and they will deliver to your door..' She looks unconvinced and I use my iPhone for a quick demonstration of how she can access the library web site to renew her books and make enquires. I run a brief video chat with a friend of mine and see Margaret's eyes light up, 'can you do this with Australia?' she asks..the possibility of video chatting with her darling granddaughter abroad fills her with excitement. 

I think of Molly whose story of acute social isolation I told here (Long life is not a blessing) and I imagine the Internet's positive impact on her sad existence. It is not human company but the Internet can significantly lighten the heavy burden of boredom and helplessness; with considerable text size adjustment to compensate for her poor eye sight (and plenty of guidance) she could go on Wikipedia to quench her thirst for general knowledge, she could chat with fellow cat lovers, good food appreciators and wine connoisseurs. Instead of waiting for others to gather leaflets about a new TV seat she has been wanting, she could search Google for mobility shops in her area and email them questions relating to her specific needs..indeed the possibilities are endless.

Jake Griffith's insight demonstrates technology's power to improve and transform lives. We must encourage carers to be aware of new offerings and hope the NHS recognizes its long term benefits. It is the difference between a 93 year old spending six and a half hours on a cold bathroom floor and getting instant support, it is the difference between relatives constantly worrying over a confused loved one getting lost and them knowing he/she can always be traced, it gives isolated and depressed individuals the freedom to ditch those vitamin D tablets and let daylight provide the daily dose as they step outside with confidence; to these individuals popping to the local shop and chatting with others marks the difference between a dull existence and life worth living.