This year, Government Minister Dr. Hans-Peter Friedrich unveiled the Government’s new demographic strategy, „Jedes Alter zählt“. The strategy includes proposals on how Germany can continue to take advantage of the opportunities and potential of its demographic changes. An important aspect of the strategy is to maintain the mobility of older people and for this purpose, the project will deliver an innovative programme, known as PASSAge: „personalized mobility assistance and service systems in an aging society“.
Within the project, scientists at TU München (TUM) have partnered with companies and developed an „Assistenzsystem“ that helps older people stay mobile. The system combines housing technology, aids such as walkers, specially equipped car sharing vehicles and public transport. Already, the Bundesforschungsministerium (BMBF) has contributed EUR 2 million to support the work of the partners involved, including wheelchair manufacturers Sunrise Medical, helping to move the programme forward.
Central to the idea, according to Project Co-ordinator Thomas Bock of TUM, is an almost seamless mobility chain, enabling independent living of the elderly, even into old age. Through a network combining individual means of transport, with assistance controls in the home, this independent living ideology can become possible. In everyday life, it might look like this: a walking frame could feature a control panel that could open a car door, or control furniture such as height-adjustable cabinets.
In addition, a „Health Phone“ could evaluate health data for an individual, making recommendations for the appropriate form of mobility and establishing contact with the emergency services if necessary. Within wheelchairs and vehicles, the programme’s researchers want to install a variety of aids such as biosensors, that measure blood pressure, blood sugar or respiratory rate, evaluating them in the long term too. Through the phone, the user would then receive health tips on how and what they should be moving. So for example, with slightly elevated blood glucose levels, the system could recommend slightly more walking – or at very high levels, to take medication.
Whilst information from this research project and its outcomes are not yet complete, these ideas are setting the trend in the context of an aging society. It will be exciting to see which of these ideas and areas of innovation manufacturers select and develop. Ideas such as a self-directing wheelchair, and satellite navigation for walking frames not only positively impact on the daily lives of users, but also offer companies the chance to move one step ahead of the competition.
In the next few months, various scenarios are being tested and studied in a six-month trial in Munich. It will be interesting, then, to see which products come from the health aid sector for integration into the networked supply system. This raises the questions of which interfaces can be integrated into the everyday lives of the elderly, and whom has the capacity for development of new business models and partnerships with manufacturers in other industries. Current partners from the health sector are Streifeneder, Haag-Rehatechnik, Heidelberg Medical Marketing and the previously mentioned Sunrise Medical.