The Tech Corridor pioneers of healthy ageing technology
Technology has a key role to play in ensuring future generations age healthily
With dipping fertility rates set to leave countries around the world with much older populations, we take a look at some of the Tech Corridor innovators coming up with new ideas to enable healthy ageing.
Falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century, according to a new study. Twenty three nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see populations halve by the year 2100, says the report published in The Lancet.
Described as “natural population decline”, the falling fertility rate is nothing to do with sperm counts, but is said to be a conscious decision by women to have fewer children. With the planet already cracking under the pressure of the current population levels, having a natural decline over the coming decades may not be seen as such a bad thing, but as Prof Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington told the BBC, the challenge will be the subsequent inverted age structure (more old people than young people).
This opens up many worrying questions: Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?
"It will create enormous social change. It makes me worried because I have an eight-year-old daughter and I wonder what the world will be like." - Prof Murray, University of Washington
‘Ageing society’ is one of the UK’s four Grand Challenges – the strategic focus areas to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity.
Technology will undoubtedly have a huge part to play in answering some of the questions raised by this inverted age society of the future. We have compiled some of the pioneering work already being undertaken by tech businesses, entrepreneurs and institutions in the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor region.
Tech Corridor healthy ageing pioneers
Goal: Early identification of healthcare needs
A finalist in our 2019 Investment Catalyst programme, Glyconics is a Cambridge/Norwich based medtech business developing point-of-care diagnostic devices, initially focused on COPD and diabetes diagnostics. Over 420 million people worldwide are currently living with diabetes and it is believed that one in two are undiagnosed. Left untreated diabetes can cause life threatening complications. Glyconics use infrared spectroscopy to analyse for markers of disease, which would enable healthcare providers to better anticipate future needs of patients.
Goal: Reduce pressure on healthcare services
Cambridge based Closed Loop Medicine aims to tackle the challenge of overstretched healthcare services by digitally optimising the patient/doctor feedback loop. Using digital devices Closed Loop approach uses digital real time tracking to capture a patient’s true progress and allows doctors to administer tailored care solutions only when needed.
Goal: Reduce staffing pressures in care homes
This Cambridge University spin out was recently awarded funding by Innovate UK to support R&D and trials to deploy a patent-pending exoskeleton, in care homes to monitor and empower the elderly and vulnerable. This particular project addresses, in the short term, the current Covid-19 crisis, and in the long term, the crisis in Care, where demand will outstrip supply in 2022. Their intelligent clothing solution would allow single-platform remote monitoring of multimodal biometrics (vitals, including body-temperature, coughing) of the wearer. It further enhances the mobility of the user by allowing them to employ the same embedded hardware to remotely control devices through voice, gesture and touch commands, e.g. through touching their sleeve, using existing third-party AI.
Sea Hero Quest
Goal: Early detection of genetically predisposed medical conditions
Sea Quest Hero is an innovative mobile game which aims to detect people most at risk of Alzheimers. The game, created by Deutsche Telekom in partnership with the University of East Anglia, Alzheimer’s Research UK, University College London (UCL), and game developers, Glitchers has been designed to help researchers better-understand dementia by seeing how the brain works in relation to spatial navigation. “Dementia will affect 135 million people worldwide by 2050. We need to identify people earlier to reduce their risk of developing dementia in the future. Current diagnosis of dementia is strongly based on memory symptoms, which we know now are occurring when the disease is quite advanced. Instead, emerging evidence shows that subtle spatial navigation and awareness deficits can precede memory symptoms by many years.“, Lead researcher Prof Michael Hornberger, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School
Goal: Modernise prescription services
A Norwich based start up, e-surgery is an online pharmacy and prescriber. They enable patients to access prescription medication for common conditions without needing to see a doctor. You simply go online, choose the treatment, answer a simple health questionnaire which is checked by their UK-based prescribers, and the medication gets sent to you in discreet, 100% recyclable and biodegradable packaging. They also offer a free Ask-A-Pharmacist service giving patients access to information directly from trained professionals, reducing the need to attend in person appointments.
Goal: to investigate how we can live longer, healthier, and more satisfying lives
NIHA is a new research centre made of more than 200 researchers from across the University of East Anglia. They will work with the wider community, local government and researchers from the Norwich Research Park on a range of projects to improve health and lives in the region.
Research areas will include nutrition, physical activity, smoking cessation, sleep, social activity and medication adherence. Researchers will also look to understand behaviour change and the implications of behaviour on health and wellbeing. Engagement with the wider community and local government will ensure that the research is translated into real change for better local and wider public health.
NIHA partner, The Quadram Institute is at the centre of a unique concentration of expertise on the Norwich Research Park that is dedicated to the science of food and health. Central to their mission is to harness that expertise into understanding how individual foods and diets can help us maintain and to improve our health, and to develop innovative foods that can further promote health and healthy ageing. Learn more here