How technology is building a new old age

A doctor using the iRobot’s RP-VITA system to consult with a patient

They say there are only two certainties in life. Death and taxes. And for most of us another two are old age and declining health.One of the emerging trends from CES 2013 is the number of new technologies aimed at making life that little bit easier when we reach that stage.

With 21 million people in the UK over the age of 50 – and with these figures expected to go up over the coming years – the need for care both at home and in hospital is increasing.Of more than 10,000 over 50s surveyed, 93% said they would much prefer to be cared for in their own home if the need were to arise.

ITV News reporter Lewis Vaughan Jones is at the CES in Las Vegas:

Saga has just announced its partnership with US company Grandcare which make units specifically designed to enable the elderly to live in their own home longer.

The computers include sensors which detect if there has been no movement in a home for a defined period of time and will then alert a loved one or carer. The system can also recognise if the person has not taken their medication as well as take blood pressure and pulse readings, all the while updating families and health professionals.

The Grandcare system – which has been in use in the US since 2006 – uses a simple touch-screen interface which also allows video calling and games designed to keep the mind active. Saga has told ITV News that it hopes to release the first unit early this year.

But when staying at home is not an option and a person does need a trip to hospital, they could soon find themselves being treated by a doctor who is not actually there.

A new robot looks set to make the ward round that little bit easier for doctors.Imagine a consultant or surgeon who works across multiple hospitals needs to check on a patient elsewhere.

From the comfort of their office using a webcam they can use iRobot’s RP-VITA to visit them. The robot navigates by itself to a chosen bedside and when it arrives the patient is able to talk to their doctor.

It does not require the doctor to drive it, the doctor simply clicks on a map where it wants to go and the robot navigates there. Sensors ensure it side steps people and slows down when approaching a person or an object.

In Las Vegas, Healthspot is showing off its HealthStation. It reduces the number of doctors’ appointments by allowing a booth to be placed in a local supermarket. Currently undergoing trials, the patient goes into a booth, is connected via webcam and is then provided with a number of diagnosis tools like a thermometer and stethoscope. The data is then relayed in real-time to the doctor on the other end.

Meanwhile, two British companies are trying to put a person’s health in their own hands.Plessey Semiconductors has developed a handheld ECG monitor which allows an individual to send the results to their doctor. It will also run a basic analysis on the data over the internet and alert someone if there are any significant heart problems.

Fitbug produces a number of products to help monitor a patient’s health. A blood pressure monitor can synchronise with a device and will advise someone if they need to see a doctor.

It is clear that the demand for health gadgets will go up in 2013, but how willing someone is to steer away from their doctor remains to be seen.

So while death might remain unavoidable, there is a chance that in the future old age might just be that little bit more interactive.