The UK is spending £31m on a pilot to see whether computers and high tech devices can help it dodge the demographic time bomb being primed by an increasing number of old people cluttering up the country.
It comes as the government tries to kick-start another round of debate on how it will deal with a spike in the number of older people over the coming decades, which is expected to see a decreasing workforce supporting an expanded population of retirees and long-term disabled individuals.
The government is in a funk over how to fund long-term health and social care for a population that will be relatively inactive economically while increasingly prone to conditions like diabetes, heart and chest problems, and nasty falls. If the government sticks to current funding levels, the cost of social care for adults is expected to rocket from £12.7bn last year, to £41bn by 2041, at current prices. It seems the likely response will be, "Sorry, it's too big a problem for us, you're going to have to cough up yourselves, do get a job in B&Q if you can."
So it is hoping technology will take some of the strain. The pilots announced today will run across Kent, Cornwall and Newham, and cover around 6,000 people, They will focus on "Telecare" to enable ailing oldies and other folks with health problems that could compromise their independence to continue living independently. At the same time, "Teleheath" will enable "delivery of healthcare at a distance", for example, having vital signs monitored in their homes with the data sent to clinicians for further analysis. You know the sort of thing, "Mmm, well she's still breathing. If she's stopped by next week, we'll send the social worker around."
Presumably the combination of these two approaches will cut down on the amount of time doctors, nurses, social workers, sheltered housing wardens, meals on wheels types etc. will have to spend with each individual.
What about family members you might ask? Well, those still in a condition to drag themselves out of the house will of course be working every hour god sends to support their multiple relatives living in sheltered housing, rest homes etc. The government will probably have already forced the oldsters to sell off their homes just to pay for the deposit on the sheltered housing/nursing home/knacker's yard they've been forced to spend their twilight years in.
Certainly the tech industry is hoping this sort of thing will be a big money spinner in the years ahead. Intel, for one, has made lots of noise about its investment in this area, touting everything from the totally wired hospital to nano-devices that can remotely monitor patients.
It makes perfect sense of course. The electronics industry is banking on today's young people spending their supposedly active years on their behinds watching content pumped over the web and conducting their relationships across social networks. Once their RSI is replaced by arthritis, and they find that on-screen tennis doesn't actually have the health benefits of the real thing, it's only proper that their never-used bodies should be monitored online until they finally give up the ghost, and their user accounts are erased for good. ®