Neil Jordan: Helping Alzheimer’s Patients Live Independently And With Dignity

Neil Jordan: Helping Alzheimer’s Patients Live Independently And With Dignity

Using modern technology, patients in various stages of Alzheimer's can live on their own without causing harm to themselves or others.

Neil Jordan, Microsoft
  • 12 march 2014

As we enter into this new age of cities in which more than half the world’s population will live in an urban area, we must also take a hard look at how we will care for the significant increase in our elderly population.

Consider, the average life expectancy has risen from 47 years in 1900 to 78 years today, and is projected to be 84.5 years by the year 2050. What this means is, in the 60 years between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years of age will double from 605 million to 2 billion people. This is an increase from about 11 percent to about 22 percent of the global population according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Unfortunately, while many will be living longer, they will be doing so with age-related health issues and disease.  Of special concern, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to treble by 2050, according to a new analysis released in December at the G8 dementia summit. Alzheimer’s Disease International reports that 44 million people live with the disease now but that figure will increase to 135 million by 2050.

The WHO also estimates that between 25 to 30 percent of people aged 85 or older will have some degree of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Disease International report, most governments are “woefully unprepared for the dementia epidemic.”

We need not be.


With this added pressure to health systems, diminishing budgets, and fewer health professionals to care for everyone, technology is the critical factor to success. From using remote medicine for rural or house-bound patients, to helping health professionals’ access electronic records easily and securely, technology empowers patients and health professionals while keeping government spending down.

How? Sensor technology used in cities to provide previously unknown data about how much energy is being used, traffic patterns, where water pipes are leaking and use of public services, is even now being applied to help people live safely and independently.

In Oslo, Norway, a retired engineer, Mr. Helge Farsund cares for his wife, Kari. Kari, who had been an intensive-care nurse who served with the Red Cross in Rwanda, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago. Looking to live as normal a life as possible as Kari’s condition progressed, they are participating in a pilot project studying how a smart home powered by sensors enables people with Alzheimer’s Disease to stay in their home.

The system created by Abilia uses a central memo planner on a tablet connected with wireless sensors around the house to detect motion. If a door is opened or left open, or if the stove is left on, the system alerts patients and caretakers of danger.  The planner also providesspoken reminders about daily tasks, such as when they need to take medicine and events like birthdays as well as enabling caretakers and family members to check in remotely via Skype.

Though still a pilot program, the system is expected to save the government money. In Norway it cost one million Norwegian krone per year, or about $162,000, to have someone in a home, in contrast the Abilia system costs about $25,000 a year.  Most importantly for Mr. Farsund, the system gives him peace of mind that his wife will not wander into harm’s way while he is sleeping because the sensors will alert him.

If we take the quote from Hubert Humphrey to heart that, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly,” the solution is clear that we must treat our elderly with respect if they wish to stay in their homes. Technology enables us to do this, not in the future, now.

With the help of our partner Boehringer Ingelheim, PSFK Labs has released the latest Future of Health Report, which highlights the four major themes and 13 emerging trends shaping the evolving global landscape of healthcare. To see more insights and thoughts on the Future of Health visit the PSFK page.

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