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Tomorrow Today

Talk: Population Change - the scientific response

We talk about technology for the elderly with our studio guest Birgid Eberhardt, an expert on ‘ambient assisted living.’

DW: Can you tell us a little bit about ambient assisted living - what is it?

Birgid Eberhardt:Well, it's describing a technical environment that can't be seen or smelled or touched, but it's there to help people.

Why do we need it now?

In Europe as well as in other countries, society is aging, on the one hand. On the other hand, we have a lack of younger people. And so this idea is to support everybody. To support the elderly, living alone, but also supporting children, supporting their parents, or people at a higher age, who are still working.

How does it do that? Can you give us examples of technology that might be in place in the home to help us?

It starts with very small things. For example, you have a light that is switched on when you leave your bed, so you don't fall. Or there is a device that switches off when it is not in use. A lot of people - not only the elderly - go back home to check if the oven is still switched on - did I forget it? It's not a problem of the elderly. It's more about making our environment more intelligent - such as the car.

Do you think that robots are replacing humans?

No, the idea is never really to replace them. They are linked to give a better human service, to be there when there is not a human available. It's a device that is moveable, so even if someone is falling and doesn’t have a neighbor, the doctor could already have a view, while help is sent off.

Do you think there is anything that robots can do that humans can't?

They can help to lift heavy people. When you have a small nurse and somebody fell down, there's the question of what you can do. So there might be a robot that is supporting the nurse to help.

With this technology do you find much resistance? For example, my brother can't even turn on a computer. I'm not saying he's old, but when he is older, is it going to be a problem for him and other people like him?

Well, it might be, but the idea is really to have the environment in such a way that you don't have to think about it. For example, you enter your car and you forget to put on your seatbelt. But then you get a hint, and maybe you can't even start the car. The idea is, it should be so simple that it's just part of life.

Do you find that men and women are different when it comes to accepting this technology in everyday life?

Women are used to devices in the household and they are thinking more of being independent when they are getting older. They are the ones living alone when they are old.

Do you think in 40 years' time this is going to be as common as - say - looking at a kettle in a house?

I'm absolutely sure, because when you see the development of smartphones, smart pads, for example, there was a big jump during the last two or three years. And also in other areas - cars, for example. Nowadays you get a car and you just say 'Park in!' and it's done.

(Interview: Anne O'Donnell)