Grandma Rocks

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Scrolling a website called Grandma Goes High Tech, I became fascinated with the advances Scandinavian countries are making by creating innovative home technology designs for older adults.

Joyce Wayne

In my neighbourhood, which friends refer to as “the retirement resort” there are many people getting around with walkers. We live in Bronte, a little village incorporated into the west end of Oakville along Lake Ontario.

It’s something of a haven for retirees. Oakville has been vigilant in controlling development so access to the lake is easy to reach on foot.  There are park benches all along the Bronte waterfront parks and I, like many others, often find it comforting to just admire the water and, in summer, the beautiful boats in the harbor.

The quaint shops along Lakeshore Road, including the local grocery market, are independently owned and during the three years since we’ve moved here, I’ve gotten to know many of the shopkeepers, cashiers, and restaurateurs. I feel at home.

My partner and I frequently marvel at how much we enjoy our community and how we’d prefer to stay in our home as long as we possibly can. When we walk our dog, Rufus, folks stop to pat him and trade pleasantries.

Grandma Goes High Tech points the way to the future by introducing a high tech walker that offers seniors independence without resorting to costly homecare.

“With sensors to detect obstacles, the ability to come when you call for it and a built in computer tablet, the LEA Care Robot is the elite sports car of walkers. It even has a built-in dance program for seniors who like to take a spin on the dance floor.”

A Swedish special government investigator looking into ageing at home asks, “Why should we have a trained nurse buy groceries or do a quick welfare check in the middle of the night, when we could use technology instead?”

In fact, the Nordic countries are banding together to develop solutions for their burgeoning senior population. In Sweden, older adults will soon be one-quarter of the population.

Here in Canada the senior question is even more pressing.  After Japan, Canada boasts the largest percentage of seniors in the world. Consider all the boomers, who will be joining the ranks during the next decade.

We could take a page from the Scandinavian playbook, and start investing in tech solutions that will improve life for older adults. Not only established Canadian companies, but startups could also become leaders in this field in North America.  Advances would keep ever-rising health costs down.

A perfect example is the Swedish company Pilloxa that’s developed a smart medicine dispenser. It tracks medicine intake, compares data with a symptom log and helps to improve compliance. Advances such as this medicine machine make ageing at home increasingly viable.

It’s not only physical needs that the Swedes are exploring. Seniors realize that we are much more complicated than our physical health issues. Increasingly emotional needs are coming to the forefront as we discover that fending off loneliness and isolation is just as important as blood pressure monitoring.

For this reason, a group of 80-year-old Swedish pensioners are testing apps and games invented for older adults. With the advances in artificial technology, it’s easy to see how scientists and entrepreneurs searching for niche businesses could develop artificial intelligence aids that will improve our ability to remain at home without becoming despondent.

For those living on their own, artificial intelligence could make life much easier. In fact, a recent article in the U.K. Guardian was headlined:  “Everything you need for a techno-utopian retirement.”

At the Design Museum in London, all manner of things, from next generation scooters to bloodstream nanobots, are now on display in an audacious show, titled the New Old.  We might imagine that the show would feature unisex running shoes and ugly grips for the bath, but that’s not the case. Not even close.

“The future of ageing is more likely to involve robotic underwear, sentient digital companions and fridges that stock themselves if a new generation of inventors have their way,” according to the Guardian.

In about ten years, half of the population of the U.K. will be over 50. Already there are 500,000 people aged over 90.  “The new old are tech savvy, mobile, often still in work, and simply won’t put up with clumsy plastic loo seats and excessively padded shoes….This is the rock’n’roll generation,” remarks Jeremy Myerson, the curator of the New Old exhibition.

At the exhibit, Silicon Valley wonder boy Yves Behar is introducing “an emotionally intelligent digital companion, with Intuition Robotics, that’s designed to tackle loneliness among older people.”

At first, I was skeptical. How can a wobbly-headed robot with a cyclopean eye replace human company. Yet a survey taken by London’s Design Museum  “surprisingly reveals that a quarter of us would prefer to be cared for by robots in old age rather than people.”

Most of us are already comfortable with banking, communicating and managing our health online. I know I am. Advances in these areas have enriched my life.

I fired my financial advisor a few years ago and have done much better handling my own online investment accounts.  Without Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, and various sized screens to watch and read the news, I’d feel out of the loop.

With my gadgets, raging from a laptop to a smart phone, I can cover a news story without leaving my house, post it to this site or Facebook and enjoy comments within minutes.

With driverless cars, responsive insoles helping us to keep a steady gait, “as well as a genius new three-wheeled mobility scooter by corporate giant PriestmanGoode,” it’s just about in everyone interests to support inclusive design.

I’m looking forward to new high tech developments and intend to count on them for new solutions to ageing in place.

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About the author: Joyce Wayne has been writing about finances, women and culture for thirty-five years. Author of ‘The Cook’s Temptation’ and co-writer of documentary ‘So Far From Home’ (2010), she has won numerous awards for journalism, fiction and community engagement.