Europe in My Region

Soon homes for the elderly are going to be packed with technology that makes it easier for nursing staff and relatives to be close to people with dementia.

This is a repost of Demantec: Fremtiden flytter ind hos de ældre, originally published in Danish and German by Jeppe Pers (Facebook), and submitted to the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

Forskerparken, the science park, in the town of Odense looks like a small country town. The surroundings are green, birds are singing, and there is a smell of freshly cut grass. The fresh air is a pleasant contrast to the city, only a few hundred metres away.
It is almost hard to believe, but some of Denmark’s best scientists in welfare and robot technology are based here in Forskerparken. 500 employees work daily here at the 10,000 square metre area which houses 60 companies, institutions and centres.
In one of the discrete buildings, I am struck by the light, modern interior design and the great atmosphere. I am visiting Welfaretech, one of the major engines of innovation that drives Denmark’s welfare development.

The Internet of Things

Mette Thiel and Jakob Paulsen welcome me, keen on telling me how the Interreg project, Demantec, is going to make a fundamental change to the care of people with dementia.
“We are about to see big changes,” Mette begins, and she makes it absolutely clear to me that we cannot keep caring for people with dementia in the way we do now. “84,000 Danes are right now suffering from dementia and the number is constantly increasing. Scientists estimate that the number will have tripled by 2050. This means that there is a need for solutions to relieve the pressure on the health system and at the same time to adjust the care offered to the needs of the people with dementia.”
“We are in a situation where the relatives of dementia patients feel left in the lurch,” Jakob adds. “It is incredibly hard work to be a caregiver for dementia sufferers. And it is among other things at this point Demantec really wants to make a difference. We will create homes of the future for the elderly, and these homes will be packed with technology that makes it possible for relatives to see that their father or mother are actually well – and that they are not in trouble.”
Demantec’s view on homes of the future for the elderly makes you think of the trendy concept Internet of Things, which means that all items in the future will be able to communicate with each other via the Internet. Why should it not be possible to find out where the only free parking space is in a certain area? Have you actually turned off the gas and locked the door – or are you just a little bit neurotic? These everyday questions will be solved by The Internet of Things.
The problem with the big advanced IT solutions is just that technology development happens in leaps, and therefore it can be very unfortunate and expensive to invest in something that is cutting edge today but turns out to be obsolete tomorrow.
But Demantec will use already mature technology from already existing products and implement this in a solution that is developed in cooperation with the German lead partner in the project, Hochschule Flensburg, which employs leading specialists in dementia research. This ensures a strong scientific foundation combined with resilient and capable equipment.

A fundamental paradigm shift

A future, where nursing staff are non-existent and robots have taken control of everyday life for the elderly, seems scary to me. But Jakob reassures me: “Technology should not substitute good human skills and the care from nursing staff. Technology should in the long term substitute some of the medical consumption. Already now, medication is sometimes used because we do not have the right conditions and surroundings for people with dementia to relieve the pressure on the nursing staff such as for example well-being houses.”
“This is not a question of having either nursing staff or robots,” Mette adds. “”The purpose of using technology in the nursing care sector is a better life. A better life for the elderly, a better use of the human skills of the nursing staff. And better chances for relatives to help the person with dementia.
Mette and Jakob from Welfaretech have convinced me that there is going to be a huge paradigm shift in the nursing care sector. But I find it difficult to imagine how the care of elderly people with dementia is going to be in the future. Will we have to compromise our desire not to be monitored? What physical shape are the robotic caregivers going to have? What are the safety risks associated with having all sorts of furnishings and appliances connected to the Internet? What is it going to mean for relatives that they can continuously follow the condition of their demented parents?
These questions can currently not be answered. But the nursing care sector is going to change. The cooperation between the partners at Demantec is courageous and breaks new ground in order to find the right solutions for people with dementia, caregivers and relatives. Solutions that will take exact account of the existing challenges of relevance to society.
DEMANTEC has huge potential. By addressing the challenge of adjusting the nursing care sector to far more dementia sufferers, the region of the programme can become a pioneer in the field, creating solutions that will benefit people in many different places. In addition, the many welfare enterprises in the region could make giant leaps and manifest themselves as new influential players on the global market.
And the human aspect will not be lost. Maintaining personal care and maintaining dignity for the individual person with dementia is a commendable starting point and also a good starting point for the innovations that DEMANTEC will generate in the next three years.
BOX: Welfaretech, a partner in the Interreg project Demantec, is a network organisation specialising in creating innovation through cooperation between private companies and public organisations in the health sector.

More information about the Demantec project can be found here.

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