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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The iPad: A highly technological granny flat for your digital old age


These days it is the grandchildren who are in thrall to technology, with their webcams, emails, iPods and social network sites.


But in 40 years time it will be the elderly who will have their finger on the button from a "virtual granny flat".


At least that's the vision of a research group which claims that by 2048, pensioners will be able to live independently in their homes, using video conferencing to watch and chat with family and friends.


Care homes will be replaced by "boutique hotels" only for the seriously ill, it says.


The report also predicts that the infirm will be fitted with microchips so they can be remotely monitored to ensure they do not wander or fall.


The study on the future of caring for the elderly outlines an extraordinary vision of "ageing in place" when the retired will no longer have to sell their homes to pay for care.


It was commissioned by the Life Trust Foundation, a group set up to look at the financial impact of living longer.


"It is a triumph of the public health system that we are all living longer, but it is only a triumph if people have real quality of life in old age," said Mike Lake, director general of Help the Aged and director of the Life Trust Foundation.


"We need to use this technology to make people's lives richer."


The report envisions a future in which the elderly will have their homes kitted out with wall-length video link-up screens allowing them to watch their relatives, read a bedtime story and even babysit from their "virtual granny flats".


Safety sensors under the floor and on household appliances such as fridges will be able to monitor their movements and notify medical staff or relatives if a person falls. Other sensors will trigger a voice prompt if a pan has been left unattended or the bath running.


Experts predict that the technology for "virtual granny flats" will be available as early as 2028.
Mr Lake said: "The technological advances available now are not being utilised by the elderly population at all. People don't want to go into care homes any more.


"They want company, but people want to remain independent as long as they can. Soon the technology will allow them to do this.


"I do not know if care homes will become completely redundant, but they will go the way of boutique hotels which are tailored to you as an individual. Chip technology sounds horrific, but it could be a very sensible way of keeping tabs on people who wander."


Futurologist Ian Pearson, who contributed to the report, said: "The development of ever-larger flatscreen TVs and the growth of video conferencing means that grandparents could essentially have a window into their children's and grandchildren's homes.


"Even if they are not very mobile they will be able to do grandparent things like babysit or read bedtime stories through a video link-up."


The Government has announced plans to spend £80million on research into how local authorities can use sensors to help the elderly.


Experts claim home monitoring systems, already in use in the U.S., would be far cheaper than the current care home system which costs £540 a week for a typical stay.


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