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The number of elderly people in Europe is continually growing, and they are all united by the same wish: to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Progress in technology is clearly on their side, as electronic devices and specially tailored services are available to help them in their everyday lives. What do elderly people need today, and how can modern technology help them? Answers to these questions were provided on the first Franco-German AAL Days held by Hager Group in Obernai on 28th and 29th September.
People in Europe are getting older and older. By 2030 more than 22 million men and women will have reached retirement age in Germany alone – around a third more than today. Surveys show that the majority of them would prefer to spend their remaining years in their own homes. And more than half of over-65s would be prepared to use technical gadgets that remind them to take their tablets or alarm systems featuring functions such as electronic sensors which monitor movement and falls.
The figures illustrate that ambient assisted living (AAL) has and will continue to have considerable social and economic potential. The idea is to provide technical solutions to enhance older people’s quality of life. With this in mind, developers at Hager Group have, for some time now, been investigating how state-of-the-art technologies can be combined with simple adjustments to a person’s home and specially customised services for the user’s benefit. When Hager Group joined the AAL Saar Network, founded in July 2014, it demonstrated its resolve to move ahead in matters of AAL together with traders, large companies, care services, local councils, statutory health insurance providers and social welfare organisations.
By organising the first Franco-German AAL Days on 28th and 29th September 2015, Hager Group continued this tradition and showed how seriously it takes AAL. This conference at the newly opened Hager Forum on the company’s premises in Obernai was attended by high-ranking politicians from Germany and France, as well as by numerous representatives of businesses and also by healthcare experts, property specialists and journalists. They shared their ideas and expertise in workshops, presentations and informal conversations before and after the panel discussions. In addition, information stands on the first floor of Hager Forum gave the delegates an opportunity to find out about numerous ideas and solutions developed by innovative AAL companies.
“Demographic change is one of the greatest social challenges of our time,” said Daniel Hager, CEO of Hager Group. “Our aim is to use the Franco-German AAL Days as a way of helping to spread knowledge about how dignified ageing could look today and in the future. AAL Days are not a sales event, they give everyone on the market an opportunity to present their experiences and to go home with fresh knowledge and new contacts.”
Stephan Kreutzer, head of AAL Business Development at Hager Group and co-organiser of the AAL Days with Jean-Michel Hervouët, highlighted in his speech that this industry event was a must for anybody who wanted to gain a comprehensive understanding of AAL. “Great ideas start in the mind. And great ideas are created by bringing together the best minds. The more we learn from each other and work together, the faster we can provide solutions that make life easier for the elderly.”
The importance of AAL for independent living was also emphasised by Stephan Toscani, Minister for Finance and European Affairs of the German State of Saarland. “Accessibility is a vital requirement for ten per cent of the population, helpful for 40 per cent and a matter of convenience for 100 per cent,” said Toscani, who also spoke on behalf of Annegret Kramp-Krrenbauer, Saarland’s Premier and German patron of AAL Days. “This is also why AAL products are becoming increasingly integrated into other spheres of everyday life – similar to cars, which we use on a daily basis. These are questions which we are addressing in Saarland, and so we particularly welcome Hager Group’s commitment on such issues.” He also praised Hager Group’s cross-border collaboration on AAL which is reflected in its patronage, as AAL Days are supported not only by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, but also by French patrons: Laurence Rossignol, State Secretary at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Healthcare, with responsibility for families, the elderly and independent living in old age and childhood, Philippe Richert, President of the Regional Council of Alsace as well as Jean-Pierre Masseret, President of the Regional Council of Lorraine.
Mr. Richert stressed the importance of senior citizens, "they are a group of people that are important and represent a great market potential.” Christophe Choserot, Vice-President of the Regional Council of Lorraine representing Mr. Masseret, took advantage of the event to announce the launch on 7th October of the regional sector strategic committee of the Silver Economy and the Franco-German cluster.
Differences between France and Germany
During the presentations and workshops it became apparent that people in Germany and France have similar needs in many spheres of life, but that minor differences must be taken into account when AAL solutions are designed – especially regarding people's spending power and their willingness to use technology.
For instance, elderly French people have, on average, slightly higher pensions than their peers on the other side of the Rhine, while German employees retire later in life: Whereas in France only 48 per cent in the 55-to-64 age bracket are still working, this figure is 55 per cent in Germany. There are also differences in social insurance: while in Germany anyone with health insurance also has nursing care insurance, France has no such tradition. Instead, it has a nursing care allowance which is funded through a general solidarity level, through pension funds and by local councils. Unlike in Germany, ambient assisted living is not funded centrally, through statutory health insurance companies, but at local level, resulting in a highly diverse market.
Quite surprisingly, cultural differences as well as economic aspects are important for an analysis of the AAL market. When surveyed, a considerable majority of German pensioners showed a cautious attitude towards technical assistance solutions. They prefer human assistance to technology whenever possible. By contrast, their French peers, while not overly enthusiastic, proved to be far more open-minded towards technology when questioned. This affinity for technology even showed itself in people’s preferences for control devices. While German pensioners prefer smartphones and tablets for this purpose, French pensioners are happy to go one step further and use integrated sensors, smart everyday objects and video communication in their daily lives.
In his closing speech, Daniel Hager announced that Hager Group would continue to pursue AAL issues with some intensity and that AAL Days would become a recurring event. He emphasised the importance of sharing information, particularly with practitioners from the nursing care sector, since they had the best understanding of the needs of vulnerable people. “Well-designed assisted living solutions help the individual without creating a stigma,” he said. “Our main focus is on people. We put them before technology.”
I. The concept of AAL and what it means to the individual and the economy
The German Ministry of Education and Research introduced the term ambient assisted living (AAL) to cover all assistance systems within a domestic environment. The concept was then developed further by Locate Solution GmbH, a subsidiary of Hager Group, which also coined a suitable German phrase for it, meaning “assistance to support everyday life”. This definition includes assistance systems in a domestic environment, while also leaving enough space to define each user’s specific requirements.
Ambient assisted living technology is opening up a new business segment for solutions that make everyday life easier for the elderly and those in need of care. This market is being fuelled enormously by demographic change.
Areas of application
AAL is finding its way increasingly into people’s domestic environments, particularly in combination with care services. The main emphasis is on providing convenient support, speedy assistance in emergencies and potential networking with specific services in and around the house, such as accompanying a person on visits to their GP, doing their shopping for them and cleaning and tidying their house.
AAL systems in the private sphere can:
At the same time AAL technologies can support district nurses and carers in a way that meets their patients’ needs.
AAL was first used in the medical sector and in home-based care. The first products were a red button on a wristband or a pendant, enabling an elderly person to get help after slipping in the bathroom, and a pacemaker which regularly sent wireless signals, reporting correct functioning.
In the future a major role will be played by digitisation and networking. Heart failure, for instance, can be monitored by sensors measuring a person’s respiratory rate, blood pressure and heartbeat and sending the data to their GP. Other utilities can protect a patient from their forgetfulness. Do you want to keep the hob switched on? Do you want to continue running the washing-up water? Many of Germany’s 1.2 million dementia patients may not need to move to nursing homes.
The third area covers multimedia applications which can help to prevent social isolation. Video telephony can provide some cheerful glimpses of the grandchildren’s everyday lives. A virtual butler can open the door to the outside world, as he knows all the local events in the area as well as public transport timetables. He can also order meals or flowers and manage times and dates for meeting up with neighbours.
II. AAL in practice: independent living in Dortmund
Ambient assistant living systems have become a practical reality and are already helping pensioners to live their lives independently, safely and without too many worries. A cooperative venture between the Dortmund housing association DOGEWO and Locate Solution, a Hager Group subsidiary, shows quite specifically how assistance can be provided in everyday life:
Harry Wendt is 80 years old and has lived in a rented flat in Dortmund for 25 years. He has been on his own since his wife’s death. The former miner has respiratory problems and needs help in his daily life. His son lives long way off, in Freiburg, and Harry doesn’t always want to bother his neighbours, and he certainly has no intention of moving.
Three years ago his landlord, the Dortmund Housing Association (DOGEWO), completely redeveloped several of its properties and, as part of this work, offered to install a number of technical facilities. As nearly all the residents were over 65 at the time, the housing association decided not only to reduce architectural barriers, but also to involve the help of the Hager Group company Locate Solution, a leading supplier of assisted living solutions. The products of this company, which is based in Essen, could initially be tested by DOGEWO’s tenants free of charge under a project which had won an award from the German Federal Ministry for Families. Harry, for instance, opted for a product called my.sens – a smart protection system with several sensors that can be set up in all the rooms within a matter of minutes and without requiring any structural changes to the property. If these sensors have not registered any movement for a certain amount of time, the base module issues an audible signal. Unless the user turns this preliminary alarm off, an alert is sent to one or more specially designated individuals.
The decisive benefit, where Harry is concerned, is that there is no need to press a button – something which might be quite difficult in an emergency call system, for instance after a fall. Another point that is important to Harry is that the alarm doesn’t go straight to the emergency services. The first people who are alerted are two friendly neighbours. They can drop round in person and then take further steps if required. Moreover, my.sens does not interfere with the patient’s private sphere. It works without a camera and therefore without recording images of the user. Neither does it store personal data, thus complying with the relevant data protection regulations. Finally, the system gives full control to the patient and can be turned on and off at any time, at the press of a button.
About Hager Group
Hager was founded in Ensheim, Saarland, in 1955. The company is now a leading supplier of solutions and services for electrical installations in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Our range of solutions and services extends from energy distribution to cable management and from security systems to building automation.
As an independent family-owned and run company based in Blieskastel, Germany, Hager Group is one of the industry's innovation leaders. 11,400 employees generate a turnover of about 1.7 billion euros. Components and solutions are produced at 23 sites around the globe and are trusted by customers in more than 95 countries worldwide. Our success is owed to the trust our customers have placed in us.