Elderly People, Disability, Dependence and New Technologies

Elderly People, Disability, Dependence and New Technologies

José Millán-Calenti (University of A Coruña, Spain) and Ana Maseda (University of A Coruña, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-206-0.ch003
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The potential impact of new assistive technologies to help people stay in their own homes for longer, age well and independently is a crucial challenge for future empowerment of the elderly. The main goals of this chapter are to draw attention to the characteristics of the elderly population and their situation regarding the increase in life expectancy and aging-related aspects, increasing the risk of disability and dependence. Notably, the role of information and communication technologies as supportive tools can help the elderly to improve their quality of life and independence. Services adapted to this population, e.g., tele-health, domotics or robotics, are examined in the text. We also look at the most relevant future opportunities and challenges to society towards new products and services.
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Situation of the Elderly Population

One of the clearest achievements of human development has been the increase of life expectancy that at present reaches the age of 80 in developed societies. However, it has not always been like this; back in 1900, life expectancy for Spanish people was no more than 40. A drastic change in people’s life conditions and particularly in their health conditions has been necessary to reach the current situation. Advances in prevention and health promotion together with those referred to as the therapeutic diagnosis and intervention techniques have succeeded in decreasing mortality in all life stages, hence facilitating people to reach ages inconceivable one century ago.

According to the Eurostat (European Statistic Agency), the increase in life expectancy will continue, which, together with the decrease in fertility, will lead a further increase in the mean age of the population. The population above 60 who constituted 17% in 1960 has increased up to 21% in 1997 and is predicted to reach 30% in 2030.

However, this change in health conditions, related to the increase in quality of life has also generated an important social change. One of its key elements is the increase in the proportion of elderly people in the total population. These elderly people enjoy perfect perceived health in general but in many cases will develop diseases that lead to disability.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Disability: Any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.

Tele-Presence: The experience of presence at a remote site via the use of information and communication technologies and virtual reality.

Design for All/ Universal Design: The design of goods, services and environments to make them usable by people with different needs and abilities to the greatest extent possible.

Tele-Health: Reflects a further broadening of the concepts of telemedicine /telecare to also include health information and activities accessible at a distance to the general public.

Dependence: A state in which persons, by reason of lack or loss of physical, psychological or intellectual autonomy, require significant assistance or help in carrying out the usual day-to-day activities.

Gerontechnology: Interdisciplinary field of research and application involving gerontology and technology; using technology to prevent, delay, or compensate for the perceptual, cognitive, and physical declines of aging.

E-Health: Concept strongly connected to the use and development of the Internet and even more, Internet-mediated access to health care services, products, and capabilities. It includes the integration of telehealth technologies with the Internet; it reflects the development whereby the health consumer has in different ways an almost unlimited access to interactive health information and consultations via the Internet.

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