What is the difference between an assistive technology and a medical device?
What are the benefits of assistive technologies?
How assistive technologies are used in dementia
The WHO Assistive Technology team
What does the future look like for assistive technologies in healthcare?
Assistive technology is vital to enable people to live healthy, independent lives. Around the world, an estimated 2.5 billion people currently use assistive technologies, and this is predicted to rise to 3.5 billion by 2050.
The assistive technology industry provides a great source of support to healthcare industries across the globe by lessening the burden of long-term healthcare. Global economies also benefit from the assistive technology industry as it enables people to access education, remain in the workforce, and be active in society.
Any technology that maintains or improves a person’s functioning and independence is considered an assistive technology.
Although many assistive technologies we use today seem very modern, the industry has a long history. The first wheelchair was built in 1595 for King Phillip II of Spain, and the first self-propelled wheelchair was invented in 1655. The first pair of spectacles were invented in 1284 in Italy. Over the centuries, many advances in assistive technologies have been made, and today, we have access to hearing aids, communication aids, wheelchairs, spectacles, prosthetic limbs, speech recognition software, memory aids, and many more types of assistive technologies.
A medical device, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is any “instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, appliance, implant, reagent for in vitro use, software, material or other similar or related article, intended by the manufacturer to be used, alone or in combination for a medical purpose.” An assistive technology falls under medical devices’ umbrella; however, not all medical devices are assistive technologies.
Assistive technologies have many benefits to those who use them, the healthcare industry, and even global economies.
Most importantly, assistive technologies exist to improve an individual’s quality of life. They help to reduce the burden of certain health issues, such as mobility issues, low levels of sight or hearing, amputations, speech difficulties, and more.
Next, assistive technologies reduce the need for healthcare services, thus lessening the burden on healthcare systems. In some cases, for example, assistive technologies can support an individual enough not to require a caregiver they would have otherwise needed without access to assistive technology.
Jane Velkovski: The life-changing power of assistive technologies | TED
Finally, assistive technologies allow people to live full lives. This is not only beneficial to the individual and their families, but it also benefits the economies they live in. People who can live an active life, overcoming health issues, can stay in education and be active in the workforce.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a loss of cognitive functioning to the extent that it interferes with a person’s ability to do everyday things. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases. As dementia progresses, a person may also develop physical symptoms, such as the gradual loss of their ability to walk or even stand.
Assistive technologies can reduce the impact of these debilitating cognitive and physical symptoms. People with dementia may use voice recognition technology and smart devices such as Alexa to set reminders (to assist with memory impairments) and turn lights on and off etc. (to assist with mobility issues). They may also use telephones with large buttons and speed dial functions so that a person’s most important contacts can be called without remembering a phone number.
Dementia clocks have been developed that clearly show or speak the time, date, and time of day (morning, afternoon, evening). Pill organizers are often used to help people living with dementia know when and what medication needs to be taken. Kitchen equipment also exists that helps people continue to cook for themselves safely, such as kettle tippers that make pouring easier, jar opening tools, and gas safety values for gas ovens and hobs. These assistive technologies and many more are
Improving access to assertive technology is one of the resolutions of the 71st World Health Assembly, held in 2018. The resolution mandated countries to develop, improve, and implement policies and programs that give people access to assistive technology. To facilitate this resolution, the WHO developed the WHO Assistive Technology team, which has developed tools and actions that countries can use to guide them in creating a people-centered assistive technology ecosystem.
Since the team was established, they have called for experts to form a working group to assist in further developing the WHO rapid Assistive Technology Assessment tool (rATA) and set up a global platform for sharing data and knowledge amongst industry experts on this topic.
In 2020, 1 billion of the world’s population were aged 60 years or more. By 2050, this figure will more than double, with 2.1 people predicted to be in this age category. The aging population means that there will be an increased demand for assistive technologies in healthcare.
With initiatives such as that of the WHO, developments in assistive technology will likely continue. In the future, access to assistive technology will likely improve, along with the capabilities of the technology itself. In the Internet of Things (IoT) age, there is a wealth of possibilities for how assistive technologies could be improved. Assistive technologies will likely integrate into people’s lives better by leveraging mobile apps and currently widely used home technologies such as smart home technology.