Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) – for enhanced safety and an independent lifestyle

An interview with Ludovic Stauffer, Chief Technical Officer CTO of the TeleAlarm Group

» In 10 to 15 years, there will be a record number of elderly people requiring care, and at the same time we will have fewer and fewer young carers. Will this demographic change alone be enough for “Ambient Assisted Living” (AAL) systems to break into the market?

As you have mentioned in your question, trends show that people today are living longer, and naturally they want to live in their own home for as long as possible. Added to that are the rising costs that present a significant challenge for the healthcare sector.

A lack of care staff and a lack of available places in care homes also make the situation more difficult. It’s not a new phenomenon for demographic change to turn the healthcare sector upside down. If you consider it from another perspective, it soon becomes clear that a care home cannot replace the proximity to a person’s home and their family. That has an effect on their overall health.

As various studies have shown, ill people recover much more quickly when surrounded by their loved ones. This is exactly where AAL systems come in. They enable the affected person to live a secure, independent life in a familiar environment. That’s why I think that AAL systems will be implemented more widely, as a result of this need, and such solutions will be increasingly accepted by society as a whole.

Ludovic Stauffer, Chief Technical Officer CTO of the TeleAlarm Group

» Reducing costs is always a major issue for the healthcare sector: is it necessary to support the older generation in their private homes with AAL solutions as a result of the high costs of hospitalisation?

The rising costs in the healthcare sector contribute to growing use of AAL systems. There are two main contributing factors to this: firstly money, and secondly the well-being of the individual in question. This means that the emotional aspects cannot be overlooked in this discussion. It’s not only the affected person that is involved, but their families also increasingly find themselves confronted with the task of finding sustainable solutions that enable independent living. Of course, safety is the highest priority in this. It’s at this point that AAL systems can provide support.

» Do you consider it the responsibility of AAL systems manufacturers to keep prices low?

Unfortunately, there are no blanket solutions here, and you have to consider the healthcare system as a whole. It then quickly becomes clear that there are many other parties involved than the manufacturer alone. Ultimately, however, it’s not the money that is important but rather the demand for reliable and safe products to be manufactured. We want to offer our clients solutions that impact on their behaviour and their surroundings as little as possible, while simultaneously protecting their private sphere.

» Nowadays, health insurance companies are often unwilling to bear the high costs of AAL systems alone. What effect does this have on financing?

Keeping costs low in the healthcare sector is becoming increasingly difficult for the near future. The “demographic explosion”, this growth of a specific age group and their increasing expectations of a good life and a higher standard of living, is a considerable challenge. It’s not a problem specific to one country, it’s the same around the world. In order to reduce costs, health insurance companies must pass a proportion of these costs on to consumers. Something that has become standard today are the various bonus programmes that the health insurance companies use to attract clients and achieve a particular behaviour. This involves discounts that the insured person receives if they buy medication produced by a certain brand or if they visit a specific doctor. Such offers permeate the whole healthcare system, and will play an even bigger role in terms of AAL.

» Medical care, particularly in rural areas, along with the lack of healthcare staff, present significant challenges for the social and healthcare sectors. What opportunities do you see for AAL systems to step in here?

Of course, AAL systems can step in here – up to a point. That’s because it can’t replace personal contact, interaction between people. However, the systems make the work of care staff much easier. They enable visits to ill people to be better coordinated and planned, and simplify administrative processes. In regions where care staff have to travel long distances from one patient to the next, a certain balance is necessary between innovative solutions and genuine interaction.

» To what extent do you include the ‘smart home’ under the term AAL?

The conflation of ‘AAL’ and ‘smart home’ has already happened, and it is becoming increasingly complex. There are no clear-cut differentiations. ‘Smart home’ is a trendy term at present, but it does much more than just tell you when the milk is empty or when the bath water is the right temperature. You have to consider it from another perspective – in terms of automation and safety. These two aspects are brought together by AAL systems, and display close synergies. That’s already the case, and it will only continue in future.

» Mistrust of AAL systems – as a manufacturer, do you see a loss of control as a risk for users? How can you counteract this?

That’s a topic that throws up a lot of questions. As a manufacturer, we do everything in our power to offer a system that is safe and easy to use. Added value for the client is a central focus. I think that mistrust from the feeling of always being monitored and the fear of divulging sensitive data is growing.

Our products are designed to be flexible, so that they can be adapted to an individual’s own requirements. That means that the users themselves decide what data they wish to disclose, and to what extent. This data isn’t passed on to Google or any other services: it stays with the manufacturer. Communication is the key. The only way to turn mistrust into trust is by being open with people and by taking their concerns seriously.

» How will our concept of privacy be transformed by omnipresent assistance systems? Do you think that’s also a generational question?

Transparency is the key. I don’t think that concepts of privacy really change from one generation to the next. Young people are sceptical too, and they question the system. Of course, that’s because they’re much more informed. The issue of data protection has never been as omnipresent as it is today.