Smart Cities for Smart Seniors

Smart Cities for Smart Seniors
03/06/2016 , by , in EXPERT ZONE

The next decade will see a collision of two significant trends in the country—the advent of smart cities & elderly population shooting to a whopping 143 million by 2021. Are we ready yet? If the two big changes converge, then yes.

Productive, innovative, progressive—while India eagerly awaits the dawn of smart cities, the big question is, are they age-friendly?

For any city to thrive on heels of technology, policy makers need to take notice of the greying population. Cities need secure housing options, reliable transport, and infrastructure that help seniors navigate betterthan the rest.

Taking Cues From Around The World

India could learn from some nifty innovations happening around the globe to understand how senior living affects a country’s success story. Take, for instance, Bolzano, Italy, where the city with IBM created a Living Safe Program to collect data that contributes to understanding how seniors can be kept safe and more independent.

The world is waking up to the aging boom crisis. Today, the world needs age-friendly policies. New Medical innovations are taking place every single day. Smart cities are not just restricted to young urban hipsters but senior population too.

In New York, some street intersections have been redesigned to improve the safety of the elderly. Moreover, some countries have altered their health policies to suit the old. In France, you are covered for 30 longterm illnesses. For something like Cancer or Diabetes, you are subject to the government. So you are not worried about monetary issues while seeking medical attention.

In Japan, Akita has snow-melting sidewalks which have significantly reduced senior injuries and weather-related fatalities. These are the kind of age-friendly advents we need in India too. A strategic framework for the aging is the need of the day.

Creating Cities ‘Smartly’ for Seniors
Modern seniors experiment with technology. They intent on staying updated, are active on social media platforms and live independently. As families shrink, the elderly become far more confident. This is why modern cities need to create an infrastructure that caters to their needs.

Smart Buildings
Not just automation, but there is a need for cleve rmonitoring, smart homes devices that make navigation in a building or home easier, greener spaces and outdoor seating in sufficient numbers, and more. These buildings should be wheelchair friendly. Just creating an old age home or retirement home will not solve the purpose.

These homes need specific arrangements, like pavements, should be free of obstructions and should have dropped curbs to road level. We have to ensure that the housing industry is looking at developments of inner and outdoor spaces that allow freedom of movement to seniors.

The home modification needs to be done keeping older people in mind. This means that societies need affordable homes for seniors, comfortable shelters for all kinds of weathers, safe and appropriate services for frail elderly.

Making Transport Simpler & Roads better

More than anything, in a country like ours, we need reliable transport systems. All areas of a city should be made accessible, with routes marked clearly.

Smart roads do not just mean high-end vehicles and quick transport. Smart drive systems for seniors means audio and visual cues while crossing streets, cycle paths that do not interfere with walkways, green spaces, among others.

Initiatives like making pedestrian crossing a breeze for seniors are easy to follow and conduct. There are countries which make it easier for seniors to cross roads safely by only allowing them to extend the green time by just tapping their card on a reader attached to the pole.

The cities currently lack voluntary transport service too. Apart from that, it is time to introduce specialized transport for the elderly as a mandate for a smart city. The concept of priority seating and visible (for all) road signs are a must.

As for parking hassles in every city, there needs to be drop-off spots at the most convenient places for seniors.

 Looking at Medical Facilities

Do you know that Indian medical tourism industry is expected to reach INR 36,000 crore (US$ 5.80 billion) by 2018? In fact, reports reveal, “India is among the top three medical tourism destinations in Asia due to quality healthcare infrastructure, availability of highly-skilled doctors and low cost of treatment.”

However, what’s in it for seniors suffering from common old-age diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s? Are there special provisions to handle these age-related health issues?

Not only do we lack awareness related to these old age health problems, but we also don’t have enough support groups to help them deal with it.

So what does a smart city with proper medical facilities for seniors comprise?

Adequate health support
Conveniently located healthcare services
Residential medical facilities
Doctors-on-call
More centres to only cater to needs of elderly
Ensuring that there are special centres to take care of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson.’
Using technology to connect with the patient remotely

Keeping Seniors Active

Age-friendly infrastructure is not enough. There’s more that entails senior living. When you look at Singapore, their day care centres are doing a commendable job at keeping the elderly occupied and happy. Some of those centres have special weekend travel sessions for patients suffering from Dementia. Then there are others that offer customised services. This is a mix of indoor and outdoor activities according to the health of the senior.

Care giving needs to go beyond the means of just providing a service. The programs around seniors need to offer something integrated and convenient. There need to be activities that keep them occupied.

The Road Ahead

Looking at the years ahead, there will be more community-wide settings and events looking into age-specific needs. The communication network will be customized to suit the needs of seniors. For instance, when you are not at home, and your grandparents or parents need help, what is the helpline number they can call on. Is there an app that can be installed?

A decade from now, everything from verbal or written communication will focus on simpler words, bigger texts and easy to understand formats for seniors. The cities should look at extensive public access to the internet in public places and government libraries.

It is time to look into a promising future by ensuring smart cities for smarter seniors.

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