Where are we AT with Assistive Technology?
Why the future of care is looking smarter than ever
There are some positives to be taken from the world-altering pandemic, such as the newly recognised requirement to rev up the adoption of life-enhancing tech.
The unfortunate side-effects of lockdown mean that the most vulnerable people in our society are denied human interaction, revealing the necessity for better, smarter assistive technology (AT) that grants users independence, convenience and choice.
Thanks to advances in medicine and inoculation, the decline of smoking and better public health measures, the life expectancy of men and women in England hit an all-time-high of 79.9 and 83.6 years respectively (2019). It is projected that, between 2017 and 2040, the number of our population over the age of 85 is set to almost double from 1.4 million to 2.7 million.
Individuals living with at least one long term health condition (LTC) in the age bracket of 65 to 74 is recorded at just over half (increasing to almost two thirds for those over 85).
But the ageing population aren’t the only vulnerable people desperately in need of person-centred life-enhancing technology; for example, in the UK 1.4 million people are living with acquired brain injury. As the number of individuals in need of AT is recorded at one billion worldwide, so the world of integrated technology must progress to meet these developing needs.
While the relevant stakeholders may have been aware of the growing need for better, smarter and more integral AT, the dramatic social changes we have all undergone owing to the global pandemic have cast a spotlight on the fact that the process has been lagging.
The World Health Organisation defines AT as ‘assistive products [that] maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being’.
assistive products [that] maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being
These products can have any level of complexity, ranging from a simple pencil grip to eye-gaze technology, and while most of us are familiar with predictive text and smart watches, there is another side to AT that has (until recently) gone under the radar.
AT isn’t just about targeting a function or skill in which the user is lacking or disadvantaged, it’s about ensuring product users have the same access to enhanced lifestyle that the rest of the population takes for granted. While the likes of medical gadgets and assistive wearables have greatly advanced, there is room for improvement when it comes to integrated smart technologies that provide tailored, intelligent and subtle convenience in everyday life. That’s why innovators like Imperium are focussing their energies on meeting these demands.
What’s missing in the assistive technology arena?
The current need is for those with LTCs and disabilities and those who are vulnerable or in their later years to have smart technology seamlessly integrated into their residential setting, either purpose-built or retrofitted. With simple physical or verbal commands, or with smart technology independence, users have complete control over their environment, security, comfort, climate, entertainment, networks, ventilation and lighting.
It’s not enough for AT to focus solely on the tangible challenges faced by product users; assistive technology must go one step further and address the basics of everyday living so that those in need can experience unlimited independence, convenience and choice in their homes.