As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, with lockdown having separated many of us from our families, friends and colleagues, the ability to stay connected virtually has proven key. From group video calls and quizzes to online shopping, remote learning sessions and virtual fitness classes, we’ve embraced all things digital on an almost universal level.
Without this technology, it’s arguable that adapting to lockdown restrictions would have been far more challenging for much of the population. Clearly, digital communications now play a much bigger role in our day-to-day lives, and is likely to continue even after things have returned to “normal”. But, this calls for further consideration of those without access to these services, particularly those more at risk of isolation. It is more important than ever to ensure that nobody is excluded from this digital shift, and this includes the nation’s older generation – a group that faced far stricter social distancing than almost any other.
A big reason that we’re investing so heavily in transforming Ipswich’s digital connectivity is because it can help us tackle the ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st Century, including meeting the demands of an aging population.
Today, there are nearly 12m people aged 65 or over in the UK – a number that is set to increase significantly in the next decade. By 2030, more than a fifth of the population will be elderly. With so many people living longer, immense pressure is being put on social care institutions and the NHS. Age UK estimates that 40 per cent of over-65s live with at least one long-term condition.
These issues often mean elderly relatives are forced to relocate to a retirement home, despite most wanting to ‘age in place’ and stay in the homes they’ve created. Forced relocations are sometimes necessary to provide people with proper care but they can be hugely disruptive and upsetting for many. By enabling faster, ultra-reliable eldercare technology, full fibre technology can help address these problems and make aging in place a real possibility for millions.
Devices to help elderly citizens have been around for a long time, going back to Life Alert which was first released in 1987. However, these devices often go unused because they’ve been ugly, poorly designed and socially stigmatising. Fortunately, as technology has advanced – particularly through robotics – companies have solved a lot of these problems, developing sleek new designs that are much more attractive, while still being functional.
One key advance that could make a huge difference is care robots. The UK government has created a £34m research programme to assess how care robots could ease caring responsibilities for Brits. Already, various models are capable of:
Transcribing and storing crucial medical information, reducing the chance of error creeping in, while helping medical practitioners make better diagnoses.
Addressing cognitive decline issue by reminding care-receivers when to eat, drink or take medication, do exercise or attend an appointment.
Enabling treatment to continue uninterrupted at nights, or during holidays – typically times when patients are left alone.
Continuously monitoring and collecting data for symptoms of conditions like heart disease and alert doctors or nurses to take action.
Beyond robotics, device manufacturers and pharma firms are developing a multitude of life-saving technologies available on the market, from insulin delivery systems to asthma attack monitors, to help people ‘age in place’. It’s estimated that, by 2025, there will be 800m connected healthcare devices active across Europe, of which half (50 per cent) will be for remote operation and control to allow patients greater freedom.
Opportunities like these are a key reason we’re investing so heavily in rolling out full fibre in Ipswich. Once gigabit-speed full fibre broadband is in place, more patients than ever can purchase devices like care robots, wearable monitors and other solutions, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to suffer disruptive lags or outages due to poor connectivity.
• To find out more about CityFibre and our work in Ipswich and to register your interest in services, visit cityfibre.com/ipswich24.