Age beautifully with Intel

11 Jul 2007

Life expectancy is at an all-time high. The population of those aged 65 and over is ever-increasing, especially in Europe. In fact, the number of Ireland’s over 65s is likely to double by 2050 to 25.9pc of the population.

Europe is standing on the shore of a healthcare tsunami, threatening medical costs that could bankrupt entire governments. The good news is that we have the technology to prevent this, and companies like Intel have the foresight to implement it.

The Global Aging Experiment is literally a matter of life and death. An extensive project carried out by Intel’s Digital Health Group (DHG), it has hit upon the key physical and cognitive realities that the elderly live with every day. Using this information, Intel carried out research to implement a ‘shift left’ approach, developing technology that may bring affordable preventative treatment to the home, hopefully tackling the fast-approaching global medical bills.

Eric Dishman, general manager of Intel’s health research and innovation, has dedicated his career to technology and the aging experience. Dishman, who started at Intel eight years ago, has been carrying out studies since 1992 on how technology can manage everything from chronic disease to the nursing home experience. Pointing to SHARE 2005, a survey of health, aging and retirement, he is asking important questions about the financial implications of an increasingly aging worldwide population, but particularly in Europe.

How do we scale quality care for the elderly? With on average 30pc of an EU country’s GDP being spent on healthcare, this is not fiscally scalable in the near future.

Intel sees this as a huge crisis but also an immense opportunity for technology companies.

This new technology by Intel has not been made commercial yet, and is still in research stage with studies in over 1,000 households in 20 countries, and in over 150 different clinics and hospitals.

Intel Ireland is in an exciting position. Europe is at the epicentre of this healthcare technology research, and Intel’s plant at Leixlip employs over 4,000 staff. The Technology Research for Independent Living (TRIL) centre, opened in Ireland in January, is part of Intel’s technology for aging initiative and has already began clinical trials of its healthcare technology.

Dishman says that rather than paying roughly €4,000 for an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor for research purposes, universities and research centres can avail of Intel’s SHIMMER technology.

Sensing Health with Intelligence, Modularity, Mobility and Experimental Reusability (SHIMMER) ECGs are lightweight, wearable, Bluetooth-enabled monitors. They can track the motion and gait of patients in an effort to better understand and prevent falls, which often lead to rapid health deterioration in the elderly, and can be modified and applied to many areas of aging research.

With open source software and reusability, Intel has already run workshops for universities around Ireland on how to use this technology and is working with Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin and National University of Ireland, Galway. TRIL, in conjunction with Professor RoseAnne Kenny of TCD, is using its motion-sensing technology to run a study of 600 patients in St James’ Hospital, with €2.8m in funding from the IDA and Intel combined.

The SHIMMER ECG is being used in conjunction with a ‘magic carpet’ (pictured), or floor sensors that act as a pressure map for footfall. The magic carpet picks up the weight, angle and pressure of a person’s steps, and could help predict and prevent a fall.

Intel’s research has found that falls often result in a broken joint and frequently result in a move from house to nursing home.

Dishman claims that the DHG also hopes to create efficiency in the hospital environment by reducing staff paperwork and increasing their availabilty for patients.

The Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA) is one of the first technologies developed within the DHG. Designed by Intel and produced by Motion Computing, the MCA is waterproof and fall-tolerant. It was launched in February 2007 but is not commercially available yet. With Bluetooth technology, a built-in camera, RFID reader and software to track inventory and other electronic records, the MCA aims to add to workflow efficiency in a hospital environment.

Dishman asserts that while the DHG is dedicated to improving the health of our aging population, it is a business rather than a charity organisation and Ireland is the perfect location for driving a business model in this area.

Research from Intel and collaboration with SMEs through Enterprise Ireland makes for growth opportunities in bringing healthcare ICT out of the hospital and into everyday life, he says. Intel maintains that this research is ecosystem-oriented and it can’t bring about this healthcare paradigm shift alone.

It is inevitable that our aging population will continue to grow. The question remains as to whether technology companies and government healthcare can band together in time to prevent what Dishman predicts will be “Y2K plus ten”.

By Marie Boran