The progressive decline in the functional capacity of many different organs and systems is an inevitable consequence of advancing biological age.  Taking into account the very great variability in the rate of decline, it is suggested that there are three categories of individuals in which it is appropriate to consider the use of technology:

Informed – where advancing technical developments are used are used to provide feedback, e.g. through the production of novel biosensors, on critical body functions and general state of health in relation to intrinsic ageing;

Supported where a range of technologies, e.g. improved joint replacements, hearing aids, etc, provide the capacity to maintain almost complete independence in spite of some functional decline; and

Dependent – where functional decline is further advanced, so that independence can no longer be assured, through the provision of autonomous ‘smart’ homes and other assistive devices that help to maintain as much social engagement, quality of life, and freedom from the need for expensive and intrusive social and medical support, as is possible.

At the informed and supported levels, appropriate inclusive design is of paramount importance and has the ability to lift people from the supported category.  Similarly, the use of technology to support the selection of the most appropriate supporting device can provide impressive functional benefit and, at the same time, reduce the wastage of inappropriate supply.

At the dependent level, autonomous smart homes have the potential to increase independence and maintain a safe environment.  The full potential of this approach will only be realised with the development of new sensors and computer systems for the appropriate interpretation of the data acquired.  Advanced communication systems are also required to allow isolated older people to have realistic interaction with friends and relatives.

In each of these areas there are major opportunities for technologists to engage in entirely new branches of research and to forge close links with research in the biological, social and medical domains. Europe offers a strong research environment for such technology development in view of both the strength and diversity of technology research, development and commercialisation and in the richness offered by the variety of impacts of increasing life expectancy in the different European populations.

Technology panel members:

Garth Johnson
Newcastle University, UK

Kees Schep
Philips Research, Germany

Peter Gore
ADL Smartcare Limited, UK

Olivier Toussaint
University of Namur, Netherlands

Richard Faragher
University of Brighton, UK

Roger Orpwood
University of Bath