The case of Lorenzo G. (fictitious name) is quite common. He is 80 years old and lives in a nursing home. He anxiously awaits the monthly visit from his grandson, which he takes advantage of to submit all his technological questions to her. The boy, a digital native, explains how to send a wasap, open an email and save a new phone number on his mobile. Lorenzo is one of the many older people without digital knowledge. If it weren’t for his granddaughter, he would be cut off from the hyper-technological world around him.
Closing the gap between galloping digitization and the progressive aging of the population is more than just a necessity. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), a third of Spaniards will be over 65 in 2050. Today, 28.6% of that age group does not use the Internet frequently.
The basic digital training of the elderly represents the first step, but the applied technology offers multiple developments to age healthy. New software favors autonomy and cognitive development, avoids isolation and provides leisure and learning experiences.
Castilla-La Mancha, pioneer in wellness technology
One of the conclusions of the sectoral conference, held in October 2022, assured that Castilla-La Mancha is the one that is best executing the European Next Generation EU funds in digitization. “In total, 7.6 million euros of these funds finance our ambitious Digital Autonomy Plan”, endorses Juan Alfonso Ruiz Molina, Minister of Finance Juan Alfonso Ruiz Molina, Minister of Finance and Public Administrations of the autonomous community.
New technologies and the latest ‘software’ promote autonomy and cognitive development, avoid isolation and provide leisure and learning experiences for the elderly.
Nearly 8,000 devices will convert the centers dependent on the Ministry of Social Welfare into digital learning spaces. Most (157) are centers for the elderly, and the Plan extends to another 32 for people with disabilities, two for minors and ten for various care. In addition to 756 computers and 5,670 digital tablets, 581 virtual reality glasses will arrive at the centers to transmit travel and other experiences to disabled people.
The Plan’s devices include fourteen Iris-Bond eye-tracking systems, essential for those unable to use speech or other means of communication.
A service of 29 technicians guarantees training and support in the use of all devices, solving doubts and incidents remotely and on-site. Likewise, the Plan includes the Resiplus software that facilitates the management of the centers, freeing their employees from administrative burdens to concentrate on care.
Isolation is one of the biggest problems in older ages
José Luis Castaño, educational consultant at SMART Technologies
The Canadian manufacturer of interactive screens SMART Technologies is an essential part of this digital revolution in the Spanish region. In addition to executing the Plan as a whole, the company provides 419 interactive panels with software created to promote personal autonomy and active aging of residents with stimulating therapies for the body and mind. This technology trains caregivers and occupational therapists to be able to use the devices with residents.
Super screens that change lives
“Neither in Spain nor in the rest of the world has an action like that of Castilla-La Mancha been seen,” says José Luis Castaño, Educational Consultant at SMART Technologies for Iberia and LATAM. “Abroad we see that some centers do it on their own initiative, but it is the first time that state-of-the-art technology has reached all public residences in a region and is regulated by a government.”
The expert highlights three aspects of the interactive panels that help improve the lives of the elderly. The first, purely physical: “The motivation to get up, walk and move their arms, because they are going to touch the screen or paint with digital colors. An 80-year-old person needs mobility. The recovery and gymnastic exercises that we see now in Spanish residences are not enough: an elderly person sitting in a chair moving his arms randomly”.
Second, mental care. “For example, with applications that make the brain work to remember things, games to match words with sounds to associate an object with what is heard. They are ways of slowing down the decline in cognitive abilities that, in addition, provide new experiences to residents”.
The president of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page (left), with Jeff Lowe, executive vice president of SMART Technologies.
Finally, José Luis Castaño emphasizes the improvement of social relations. And not only because it is more convenient to make a video call to the family via webcam and be able to see it on a big screen. “Isolation is one of the biggest problems in older ages,” explains Castaño. “Collaborating or competing with other residents adds to the activity with the company, creating a community like the classic bingo did. There’s a pottery-making app that scores each player based on the time they spend finishing a pot. Or interactive games of matching a picture with a word in which several players collaborate. It can be difficult for an older person to read, but two or three help each other: one moves the text; another, the image to join it to the word…”.
The best is yet to come
Although the scope of the Digital Autonomy Plan is unprecedented, the relationship between SMART Technologies and the Government of Castilla-La Mancha goes further. In the agreement signed by both institutions, the company extends its commitment to train center professionals in the use of the new tools. In addition, it will expand its Technology Center Applied to Education in Talavera de la Reina (Toledo). With a substantial investment in hiring programmers and developers, it will build a true Center for Technology Applied to Social Welfare.
Developing software for interactive panels with the elderly residents themselves will be closer. Or experience any new solution that benefits active aging.
José Luis Castaño highlights a challenge for the projected technology center: “One of the future keys on which we are working is to include artificial intelligence in social welfare. It would be extremely useful if the application used by a resident provided data on her condition to the psychologist or her occupational therapist. That can be achieved with artificial intelligence. Or know, through a webcam and having the necessary permissions, how many times that person has smiled. These are resources that are already applied in the educational field. Why not use them for social welfare?
With initiatives like this, more dynamic and satisfying times await the Lorenzos G. of the immediate future.