High-tech carers

Elderly people could maintain contact with their carers and community using technologies that let them join group activities and organise transport with the click of a television remote control.

This is one aim of the three-year VirtEx programme, one of nine projects that have received £11m in funding from the Technology Strategy Board to develop technologies to help facilitate more independent living.

The collaborators hope to extend care systems to include new devices around the home, adding data-intensive services with the selective use of high-bandwidth infrastructure.

One such technology includes the installation of set-top boxes in the homes of elderly people throughout the UK that will give them ‘red button’ access to a local network connecting them with friends and groups.

‘It’s all about social inclusion,’ said Mike Hodges, the research and development director of the Tunstall Group, one of the project partners.

‘You could draw the parallels between social inclusion and social networking [sites like Facebook], but one of the major intentions of this project is to address the loneliness that the elderly and vulnerable feel in their own homes.’

The systems will undergo trials in the homes of elderly people in Northern Ireland and London, which are the base locations for project partners Fold Housing Association and Housing 21 respectively.

Both organisations are involved in the ‘extra-care market,’ which provides housing communities and care for elderly people.

Other VirtEx project partners include DigiTV and Sheffield University.