EngAGE Conference 2019: How robots and gadgets can help older people stay independent

From robots which can take your blood pressure, to T-shirts which measure your heart rate, innovative technology may be the key to keeping older people engaged in society.

Those attending the EngAGE conference in Glasgow heard yesterday that new technologies from Japan could help to keep people engaged in the workplace, as well as part of the community.

The Scottish Government minister for older people and equalities, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, told the conference she is looking for ways to invest a £1 million fund for the Tackling Social Isolation and Loneliness strategy.

The strategy, which was announced in December, will help keep people who may experience isolation, whether due to disability, change in lifestyle or age, connected to their local community, she said.

It also ties into another £750,000 fund, which will be used to find ways to keep people engaged in the workplace, with a focus on older people and women.

Speaking to the packed conference hall at Glasgow Caledonian University, Ms McKelvie said: “People need to recognise a diverse workforce demands diverse job opportunities, and ensuring no one misses out.

“Flexible and agile working policies have been found to increase loyalty and business productivity.”

Speaking to The Herald about the Tackling Social Isolation and Loneliness strategy, Ms McKelvie said: “The main purpose of it is to keep that person engaged, included and alleviate any issues around social isolation and loneliness.

“I’m open to any ideas about how folks think that money should be spent, but not the usual suspects,” she said.

Ms McKelvie said the funding should go to innovative projects.

“I’ve just experienced a couple of pieces of tech here that could be life changing for people, it can keep someone’s independence, it can keep them at home, it can keep them connected to the community.

“They can lessen that sense of uselessness that some people get, especially if you start to develop a sight impairment or a mobility impairment,” she said. The MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse had just been introduced to Sota, a “social companion” robot which can “help elderly people remain independent”, according to its creators, NTT DATA.

The Japan-based global IT services provider was described as “the BT of Japan, just way cooler” by its VP of innovation, Tom Winstanley.

Mr Winstanley demonstrated Sota and some of their other technology at yesterday’s conference, which is already being used in care homes and private homes in Japan, Describing Sota’s capabilities, he said the robot also has safeguarding features.

It can track a person’s movements in the home and, if an elderly person has a fall, it can take a picture and send it back to carers and medical staff who can assess if they are in need of help.

Mr Winstanley also discussed the technological developments under way in Japan, which are being used to help its ageing community.

“Japan is hyper-ageing as a society,” Mr Winstanley said.

“Forty per cent will be over 60 by 2050, compared to 28% of the rest of the world.”

Augmentation, automation, artificial intelligence and voice activation services are all being used to help Japan’s ageing workforce and keep its economy strong, he added.

For example, the drone company Enroute has been working with NTT DATA to develop systems to help ageing farmers look after their crops without engaging in “back-breaking” work.

“There is a world of technology out there, but its about finding the right application. Technology is only part of the solution. It will take a community to make that really come to life,” he said.

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