With regard to demographic change, it can be predicted with certainty that the population will become older and older. This also applies to Austria and is confirmed by the data of Statistik Austria. In principle, the proportion of people over 65 will rise from 17.7% (2011) to around a quarter by 2030, depending on the statistical forecast variant (main forecast variant: 24.0%).
In the longer term, around 30% of the population will be 65 years or older (Statistik Austria, 2012). There is evidence that this will also influence health care structures with regard to health aspects. An increase in illnesses with a pronounced reference to old age is also forecast in this context (Peters et al., 2010). Support options for those target groups (old age, multimorbidity, single household, few/no relatives) are therefore relevant to health policy and in demand prospectively. Modern technologies such as the Internet, computer systems and applications or hardware should therefore also find their way into this area in a supportive manner.
Rethinking the design of living spaces and the living environment is therefore a premise. This is where AAL (Ambient Assisted Living) programmes can help, using assistive technologies to promote and support everyday life, life activities and quality of life.
What is essential, however, is that the focus must always be on people and not on technologies per se. The central question here is always how AAL technologies can support individuals in their autonomy and in social coexistence with other people (Rode-Schubert et al., 2012).
What will our future look like?
Ms A is now over 90 years old and lives with her husband in Germany. They used to travel a lot. Since a few years this is no longer possible. She fell three years ago and now needs crutches to walk. Her two sons live abroad. One lives on an island in the Caribbean and the other son lives with his wife in Asia. Nevertheless she is not lonely! She communicates with all members of the family regularly not only via Skype but is also connected to everyone via Facebook – and so I meet her busy on the iPad when we visit her in her house.
She has been making jewellery for years, as a therapy for her arthritis and her daughter-in-law from Thailand sends her the chosen pearls. The pearls are meticulously examined online by Mrs. A before the purchase and selected by herself. The other daughter-in-law has a stand in her hotel in the Caribbean where she sells the necklaces and earrings that Mrs. A produces. Regularly photos are exchanged and also information, which was sold now everything already and which becomes again necessary.
What does Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) mean?
AAL is defined as “age-appropriate assistance systems for an ambient assisted, healthy and independent life”. Often also translated as Active Assisted Living, these terms describe a paradigm shift in the interaction between people and their living environment, because AAL technologies are assistance systems that are directly integrated into people’s living environment. They are adapted to the special requirements of the user and are intended to increase the quality of life in the respective context of use at any age (Rode-Schubert et al., 2012). .
AAL is thus an area that deals with the use of communication and information technologies to support people’s everyday lives. For example, it is intended to provide support for the everyday lives of senior citizens or people with physical disabilities. Modern technologies can help to make everyday life safer and more pleasant and thus help to lead an independent, self-determined and socially integrated life as long as possible.
In principle, the technical systems/tools should support the user, they should positively influence everyday life, daily planning and structure, as well as the social network. A complex learning in handling the systems should not be necessary. So that even those older people who are not technically-afficient can cope well with it and need only minimal initial training and little ongoing support.
Research programmes and projects are already trying to counteract the current demographic change.
AAL programmes serve to improve living conditions for older generations and to expand economic opportunities through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). Through this targeted primary, secondary and tertiary prevention using AAL technologies, health can be maintained, people with chronic illnesses can be supported and, in the best case, hospital admissions or admissions to a nursing home can be avoided. This makes it possible to stay as long as possible in one’s “own four walls” (according to the principle “outpatient before inpatient”) by strengthening resources and maintaining independence (Rode-Schubert et al., 2012). This results in a large number of cross-border research projects in the field of AAL.
Four AAL projects which are currently being implemented in Austria or which were recently completed will be examined in more detail afterwards. All four projects are funded by the Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft (FFG). It is sometimes difficult to obtain funding for research projects in the field of AAL, even though industry repeatedly expresses interest in AAL.
WAALTeR – Research project in the Vienna area
The Vienna AAL TestRegion “WAALTeR” addresses demographic and health policy challenges and combines the ubiquitous digitalisation of everyday life with the requirements of current Viennese concepts.
WAALTeR develops service packages that are tailored to the needs of the users in order to enable older people to lead a self-determined life in a familiar environment with a high quality of life. These include the areas of social integration, security and health as well as the cross-cutting topic of mobility. From the beginning of 2018, 83 Vienna test households will be equipped with the integrated WAALTeR system and evaluated.
ZentrAAL – Research project in the Salzburg area
ZentrAAL is a completed project of the Salzburg test region for AAL technologies. The research consortium consists of partners from research, industry and the Salzburg relief organisation as steakholders from mobile social services. The test setting included 60 households of (largely) autonomous senior citizens as well as an adequate control group. The test components used were a mobile tablet (this could be taken anywhere), a so-called stationary tablet (which remained fixed in the flat) and a fitness / emergency clock (a Smartwatch configured for this purpose).
The test apartments were also equipped with a door spy (camera with which one can see who is standing in front of the door), a cooker switch, a mobile light switch, an electronic switch that switches on the light when windows or doors are open or open, the so-called CentralAAL Box and a scale (with WLAN connection). As emergency functions of the Smartwatch a mobile call help (notification of help anytime and anywhere) as well as a silent alarm (automatic alarm in case of inactivity) were configured.
The status of the apartment was determined by the electronic door spy, which made it possible to see who was standing in front of the door and to check whether devices in the apartment were switched on or windows were open.
The calendar functions made it possible to manage appointments and reminders (one-time or recurring) as well as set/receive a reminder acoustically and visually at the defined time.