MEDICA.de talked with Udo Gaden, manager of the Ambient Assisted Living GmbH, about the EU support programme "Ambient Assisted Living" which deals, among other things, with bed mattresses and cookers that can both release alarms.
MEDICA.de: The EU project is called Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) which means, loosely translated, something like „assistance systems for a healthy and independent life“. What is to be achieved by this project?
Udo Gaden: The project is concerned with already available technologies that enable people in need of assistance to live independently longer, especially in their own home. It wants to determine other areas where these technologies can also be applied in practical everyday life. Another goal is to investigate how standard technical solutions can be better adapted to concrete requirements of handicapped and old people and where new technologies are needed.
MEDICA.de: More and more technology is supposed to guarantee people to live independently. Does that happen at the expense of an interpersonal level?
Gaden: Involving technology in nursing and care processes quickly raises doubts in those affected family members as well as nurses. They often consider technology to be rather cool used to work in an environment characterised by loving care. Nevertheless, this scepticism mostly vanishes when they get to know practical technical solutions. Technology cannot substitute staff completely, because care quality will always depend on human attention. However, the expexted shortage of nurses in future times means that fewer nursing staff will have to care for a rising number of people in need. Technology can help to keep up the level of good care even under those expected conditions.
MEDICA.de: Which kind of technology are we talking about?
Gaden: Technologies from the fields of telemedicine and communication. Mostly, these are devices which have additional functions and are able to warn. For example, a mattress can alarm nurses through a connected emergency call system via mobile phones when the person lying on it suffers an epileptic seizure. Another example is a sensor under the bed which automatically switches on the light when somebody gets up – thereby preventing falls. These alarm systems can also inform about falls.
MEDICA.de: That is all well and good, but can old people handle those modern devices at all?
Gaden: Some people do not really like it when they have to control devices actively. People with dementia often cannot even bear the look of new devices since these do not fit into their familiar surroundings and new things confuse them. However, many devices are not complicated at all and do not draw attention to them like the sensor light under the bed. In any case, first of all it needs to be determined where it makes sense to apply technology. Moreover, there is still a lot to be done in the fields of design and manageability of technical devices. Device manufacturers should involve the different target groups like handicapped and old people during the development of the devices.
MEDICA.de: In Germany, nobody really talks about AAL much. The topic only slowly reaches social economy. Are there any pioneers in the field of applied assistance systems?
Gaden: A good example is the district West Lothian near Edinburgh in Scotland which could close almost all nursing homes with the help of assisting systems. The technologies enable people to live longer and quite independently in flat-sharing communities and residential homes. For example, sensors in the cooker send out an alarm when something boils over – the signal reaches a call centre which then reminds the inhabitants over the loudspeaker to turn off the cooker. An alarm system also informs when a person fell down. Thus, the average time of help reaching a person lying in the flat after a fall was shortened from Scotland-wide 4 hours to 22 minutes in West Lothian.
MEDICA.de: How do you bring technologies closer to the affected persons?
Gaden: We organise workshops with staff where we demonstrate practical examples and where we focus on everyday demands and nursing processes. We try to present examples from the perspective of people in need of assistance and nursing as well as care staff where technology can support their life and work. There is still a lot to be done and I am confident that this will happen since technology in care and nursing processes will be a real profit for all involved parties.
The interview was conducted by Natascha Mörs.
Ambient Assisted Living is topic on MEDICA 2008 at MEDICA MEDIA