‘Technology is absolutely essential’ – former Irish Olympian Maeve Kyle talks ageing

5 Nov 2013

Twins David and Stephen Flynn, The Happy Pear, were put through their paces by Maeve Kyle (85), Ireland's first female Olympian, and Edel Flynn, CEO of Digital Hub Development Agency, outside The Digital Hub in Dublin, Ireland. Image via Marc O'Sullivan

Today, the Digital Hub in Dublin, Ireland, saw a meeting of medical, health and tech-driven minds to talk healthy ageing. One of the speakers on the day was former Irish Olympian Maeve Kyle (85) who spoke about health, technology and sport.

The event, dubbed ‘ActivAge 2013’ was the brainchild of The Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA), St James’s Hospital in Dublin and The Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (a subsidiary of St James’s), with the all-day event taking place in one of the Digital Hub’s bases on Crane Street, Dublin 8.

Ireland as an ‘epicentre’ for digital-health advances

In all, more than 100 leaders and innovators from the medical, enterprise, tech, research and community sphere converged at the conference.

One of the most topical discussions of the day was on successful ageing.

The panel discussion, which took place this afternoon, involved the aforementioned Maeve Kyle; Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of St James’s Hospital; Andy Ellwood, marketing manager at Lincor Solutions; and Sean Mulvany, commercialisation specialist (Lifescienes and Food) at Enterprise Ireland.

Danielle Barron, editor of Irish Medical News, chaired the session.

She kicked off proceedings by evaluating Ireland’s ageing society and asking how we can use technologies to enhance an older society.

Ireland’s first female Olympian: Maeve Kyle

Here Kyle (OBE), the Irish Olympic athlete and hockey player, who is best known for having competed in the 100m and 200m in the Melbourne Olympics 1956, and subsequently also ran in the Rome and Tokyo Olympics, said she has been involved in sport all of her life, and thinks technology is “absolutely essential” in relation to ageing.

To give a bit of background about Kyle, however.

Born in 1928 in Co Kilkenny, she lives in Northern Ireland.

She was named in the World All Star team in both 1953 and 1959.

In terms of her hockey career, Kyle earned 58 Irish caps, plus she represented Leinster, Munster and Ulster at various stages of her career.

Indeed, while she said today that she gave up running when she was 40, she still gives back to society, and is a chair of Coaching NI, as well as being a coach.

Today, she spoke about how she manages to stay active. She also helps look after her husband, who is 87.

Maeve Kyle with the Happy Pear co-founders pictured in Dublin on 5 November 2013

Maeve Kyle (85), Ireland’s first female Olympian, pictured with twins David and Stephen Flynn, The Happy Pear, in Dublin at The Digital Hub, earlier today. Image via Marc O’Sullivan

Kyle gave some interesting insights on the home-care system in Northern Ireland, and how it would appear to differ from the system for home help and community care in the Republic of Ireland – especially in light of the healthcare cutbacks in recent Budgets by the Irish Government.

Chair Barron then spoke abut how Ireland may have the technology, but how does the country integrate it with healthcare?

Here, Enterprise Ireland’s Sean Mulvany spoke about the commercialisation aspects of exploiting technology to disrupt the healthcare space – both in terms of growing jobs and revenue in the Irish economy.

Next up, Ellwood from Lincor Solutions spoke about the company’s engineered technology it has pioneered to deliver what it terms as ‘digital-point-of-care’ computing systems for hospital staff when using administrative systems.

Hub for digital innovation

As for the Digital Hub, Barron then touched on how the ‘Hub’ has opened up a whole new world in terms of the convergence of start-ups with academia and industry in order to create new technologies.

Then, St James’s Hospital CEO Fitzgerald thanked the DHDA’s Edel Flynn, in particular, for hosting the event in The Digital Hub.

Fitzgerald said that we need to look at ageing as a “microcosm” of society.

“Patients are living longer, and people are living longer with fairly complex diseases.”

He said that, from a hospital perspective, screening programmes for older people are one of the “most resource-intensive” areas in the country.

From a practical perspective, Fitzgerald said that hospitals such as St James’s could be spending €7,000 a week in terms of looking after older patients.

And, he said that some of his colleagues might not like this around the country, but he felt that between January and April 2013, there were “too many patients” in hospitals around Ireland. This was because they “could not go home”.

He said it was important to flag this issue because of the €7,000-per-week cost, and more, that hospitals are going to incur “unless we do something”.

“The reality is there is a structural issue,” said Fitzgerald.

Community care in Ireland

The panel discussion then shifted to the community care model, with Barron asking if this was achievable in Ireland, especially in terms of integrating technology.

Here, Kyle spoke about how her husband, aged 85, now gets daily home support both in the morning to help him get up, during the day, and in the evening.

Up to recently, Kyle had been a full-time carer for her husband.

“I am in the middle of a home-care system,” explained Kyle, describing how the model works in Northern Ireland. She said that her husband does not have anything wrong with him specifically, apart from old age.

Loneliness and older people

Interestingly, Kyle touched on how loneliness is one of the biggest factors that impact people, as they get older.

“We do need to accept that loneliness is probably the worst thing for older people.”

She said that her husband has had his hobbies taken away from him.

From her own perspective Kyle spoke about how the home help system “makes you feel you are not on your own”.

“You are not trying to manage the house and the patient,’ she explained. “You need support. It might be only 20 minutes a couple of times a day.”

‘My brain would not accept this new language’ – Kyle on using a computer

And, in terms of technology, Kyle said that many older people are still afraid of technology. She said it is like learning a new language when faced with trying to use a computer, as you get older.

Ever the doer, Kyle enrolled in a computer class but found this a challenge.

“My brain would not accept this new language.” So, she instead went to a bookshop and bought herself a book aimed at primary school children, with lots of pictures, about how to use a computer.

That’s how she taught herself the basics.

Kyle said that older people have a lack of literacy with computer technology, and that it is only the minority who are digitally savvy.

“It’s actually a very small percent,” she explained, emphasising how innovators and the medical sector need to take this into account.

And, in terms of health, and sport, Kyle says that she spent “half of her life” running.

Now, she gardens, for instance, and walks. “I never do anything I do not think I am capable of.

“You have to fit the activity, or the lack of activity to the person.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic