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In an exclusive interview with GovToday, Jackie Marshall- Cyrus, Lead Specialist for Assisted Living at the Technology Strategy Board discusses how technology can benefit people living independently


1. GovToday: How important is it to the TSB to support independent living?

The Technology Strategy Board promotes and invests in technology-enabled innovation to boost UK business and prosperity.   Its vision is for the UK to be a global leader in innovation.  Funded by the government, the Board promotes and invests in technology research and helps to accelerate the exploitation of new technologies.  The Board has a vital role to play in building and maintaining the UK's global competitiveness.


Over the next 20 years all nations will experience a demographic transition from predominantly younger populations to predominantly older populations.  The UK is no exception, and in little more than 10 years time half of the adult population will be over 50 years old.  The number of adults over the age of 65 years has already surpassed the number of children under the age of 16.  People are now living so much longer - 70 is seen as the new 40.  We currently have around 9,000 people aged 100 years and over, but by around 2030 that number will rise to 68,000 and the projection for 2076 is 500,000. 


As welcome as this may be, we know that a shift towards an older population will impact on the economy, public services and quality of life for all our citizens.  Technological innovation can help us to respond to these challenges and the Technology Strategy Board's Assisted Living Innovation Platform, or ALIP, is the UK government's technological response to the challenges posed by the ageing demography.

The aim of the ALIP is to advance the technology to support independent living for people with long- term conditions (e.g. COPD, CHD, Dementia and Diabetes Type 2), as well as the increasing number of older adults in our society.  Our five-year programme will promote and invest in innovation enabled technological products and services to enhance and sustain independent living.  We see huge opportunities for businesses, of all sizes, in meeting this challenge.  The global opportunities for business are tremendous and a number of new large players are already taking this on board.


Key players such as Microsoft, Cisco, Tunstall and O2, plus SMEs Tynetec and Docobo have already seized the business opportunities afforded by the global remote healthcare market.  These opportunities exist not only in supporting independent living for people with complex and intense care needs - the frail, the elderly, or people with age-related disabilities - but also in supporting older adults to enhance and sustain their health and quality of life.


2. GovToday: What technology has TSB already invested into through the Independent Living fund and is it being used by carers and the elderly?


The Technology Strategy Board cannot achieve its aims and objectives alone, so we pride ourselves in the partnerships and collaboration we have achieved thus far with the Research Councils, other government departments, the Regional Development Agencies, the Devolved Administrations and other public bodies. 


Since its inception in November 2007, the ALIP has launched 2 successful programmes supporting the development of technology aimed at supporting people with long term conditions and helping the frail and elderly to remain as well and independent as possible in their own homes.  Our first initiative, launched in November 2007, was entitled ‘User-centred Design and Intelligent Home Based Systems'. 


This resulted in nine innovative and high quality projects, covering areas such as in-home two-way technology for the supply of health information and tele-consultation with health professionals; an automated, non-intrusive, intelligent monitoring system for the elderly and disabled; the development of an innovative real time gait training system for people with abnormal gait, and an evaluation of the potential benefits of preventative telecare and telehealth systems.  Our second programme, launched in January 2009, was entitled ‘Smart Care Distributed Environment' and focused on issues of connectivity and reliability of the systems to support the adoption and mainstreaming of telecare and telehealth.


We are placing significant emphasis on the involvement of Third Sector organisations, individuals and their families, carers and their significant others in the development of these solutions, making them truly user-centred, relevant to people's needs and therefore increasing the potential for widespread successful mainstreaming.

3. GovToday: How important is it to assess the need for technology before the manufacturing and distribution of products?


The Technology Strategy Board's activities relate to the research and development of innovative technologies, as opposed to manufacturing and distribution.  Our programmes help take assistive living technologies from early research and development up to the point from where the technology can be commercialised.  Within the scope of this activity, it is vitally important that assessments are made at the very beginning about how the research and development we may invest in meets the needs of the people who may use the technology. 


The challenges and needs must be identified, and the technology developed to meet them.    In all of our undertakings we engage with the wider community of stakeholders involved with the independent living agenda.  We consult with organisations such as the Foundation for Assistive Technology, ATCare, Carers UK, Age UK and other large Third Sector organisations, our funding partners such as the Department of Health, the Research Councils and many other public bodies to ensure that our programmes are attuned to the national technology requirements for independent living.

4.  GovToday: In the current financial climate how essential is it for technology implemented in elderly and independent dwellings to be cost effective whilst remaining innovative and beneficial to the end user?


The implementation of technology needs to be cost effective not only to the public services, such as the NHS, but also to the individuals and carers themselves.  If we take the view that we are not inventing new technology but that we are innovating on the technologies that already exist, then we are already looking at doing more with less. 


Our most current activity aims to bring together consortia of academics, industry, policy makers, health and social care professionals, the Third Sector and service-users to carry out excellent research with high potential for impact in the areas of Economic and Business Models and Social and Behavioural Studies of emerging Assisted Living technologies and services.  We intend to invest in high quality studies designed to produce outputs of the highest international standards which directly inform and influence business and public policy development and delivery to the long term benefit of our ageing population.

What are your thoughts on the role of technology in assisting the independent living? Please feel free to comment below.

Written by Jackie Marshall-Cyrus
Thursday, 17 June 2010 0:12

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