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Fact Sheet: Aging, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Public Health

Fact Sheet: Aging, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Public Health

This fact sheet has been developed as a tool to provide a basic understanding of the potential of ICT to assist aging populations to achieve better health. The fact that people are living longer worldwide means that it is important for countries to be even more efficient in planning  for health. The aim of this fact sheet is to encourage further research and interventions in this topic, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Various articles were reviewed from peer reviewed and non peer reviewed literature sources with a focus on articles with all three key words: ‘aging’, ‘information and communication technology’ and ‘public health’.

  • The population of the world aged 60 and over will more than triple (600 million to 2 billion) between 2000 and 2050. Most of this growth is happening in less developed countries (the number of older people will increase from 400 million in 2000 to 1.7 billion by 2050). According to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ELAC), the proportion of the population aged 60 years or more in the region will increase from 8% in 2000 to 14.1% in 2025 and 22.6% in 2050. In fact, by 2050 it is estimated that all Latin American and Caribbean countries have a higher proportion of older adults 15%, and close to 25% or more in some of them, such as Barbados (33.3%), Cuba (35.4 %), Uruguay (24.5%), Mexico (24.4%) and Brazil (24.3%).
  • Population ageing is occurring more rapidly in developing countries because of the fast decline in fertility and a rising life expectancy due to advanced medicine and technology. These interventions have proven successful in treating and preventing illnesses that previously caused many premature deaths. 
  • Aging individuals are particularly challenged by: deterioration in sensory, motor, and cognitive capabilities; chronic diseases; difficulty in executing tasks such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals, shopping, leisure activities, etc.; and changes in social relationships. Common conditions associated with aging include dementia, Alzheimer’s, anxiety disorder and depression. 
  • Because of this there is increased burden on (in many cases) already overstrained public health services, facilities and budget. In developing countries, issues of chronic and complex care management are compounded with factors related to the social determinants of health i.e. poverty or lack of education which complicates care access and management further.
  • In 2001 the proportion of people in Latin America over 55 who use computer was 9%;  in Mexico the percentage of people over 60 years of internet users was 4% and in Chile, only 9% of the population over age 60 using mobile phones.
  • Despite this low percentage in the use of ICT for older people, some results show that although the level of adoption is lower compared to younger adults, evidence using other technologies such as video recorders, televisions, DVD players, etc., suggests that there exists an adoption but at a slower pace.
  • Technological solutions have the potential to compensate for or delay health-related changes in an aging population. There is an interest in this sector of the population in the use of mobile phones to remind persons about  health situations: medications, appointments, among others. The perception of ICT is generally positive regarding the possibilities for health care and patient empowerment. ICTs can  also improve the wellbeing of those that care for the elderly. Informal caregivers (usually a relative and less frequently a paid person with a minimum set of skills to look after them) also have great needs and challenges for improving the wellbeing of the elderly they serve, and the potential benefit of ICT for networking and training caregivers in this issue may be a very cost-effective strategy to improve the health of elderly.
  • Technical innovations and e-health applications targeting older users and their caregivers, may include: ambient assisted living and smart homes, game-based applications and training programs, assistive technology, tele-medicine, tele-monitoring, psycho-education, and support via the Internet. 
  • It is important to note that technology used must not only meet the needs of older adults and but also be accepted by them. Gerontechnology is defined as technology that considers and meets the needs of persons across the lifecycle.
  • E-health research focusing on the second half of the lifespan is limited. More work is required, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean region, in order to capitalize on the potential of ICT to transform society and meet the challenges of the rapidly ageing population.
  • Much of the research carried out so far in this area also has a clinical outlook (focused on healthcare). More effort should be made to include measures and strategies for the promotion of ICT/innovations for the elderly. 
  • ICT has the potential  to promote social inclusion for aging populations in societies, increasing their social capital and sense of value and identity within society. Solutions for ICT targeted interventions with people with age related dependencies or disabilities should facilitate active involvement (active aging) in social physical and mental well-being throughout the lifetime of the individual. Important aspects of this concept are autonomy, independence, quality of life, and a healthy life expectancy. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) launched in April 1995 a programme on ageing and health that includes: database strengthening, dissemination of information, advocacy, community-based programmes, research, training and policy development. 
  • A reliable information database is critical to the development of national policies on healthy ageing as it assists in fostering awareness among policy and decision-makers about the rate of population ageing and the effects on public health. 
  • National policies should rely on the findings of research that focuses on cost-effective public health interventions to enhance quality of life in aging populations. These findings must be shared extensively among countries.

Bibliography

  • Cecchini, S. (2005). Oportunidades digitales, equidad y pobreza en América Latina: ¿Qué podemos aprender de la evidencia empírica? Santiago de Chile: Cepal.
  • Centro Latinoamericano y Caribeño de Demografía (CELADE) (2002). Los Adultos Mayores en América Latina y el Caribe: Datos e Indicadores. Edición Especial con Ocasión de la II Asamblea Mundial de Naciones Unidas sobre el Envejecimiento, Madrid 2002. Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), Santiago de Chile  
  • Chew, H.E., Faber, J., Liu, Z., Madera, V., Qamar, N. (2013). Actualizing a mobile integrated system for geriatric care. Stud Health Technol Inform.192: 1109 
  • Curioso, W., Gozzer, E., Valderrama, M., Rodríguez-Abad, J., E. Villena, J., & E. Villena, A. (2009). Uso y percepciones hacia las tecnologías de información y comunicación en pacientes con diabetes, en un hospital público del Perú. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Publica , 161-167.
  • Mimi, M. Y., Tse, K., Choi, C. Y., and Leung, R. (2008) E-health for older people: the use of technology in health promotion. CyberPsychology & Behavior. 11(4): 475-479 
  • Preschl, B, Wagner, B, Forstmeier, S , Maercker, A. (2013) E-Health Interventions for Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Dementia, and Other Disorders in Old Age: A Review. Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation. Retrieved December 10 2013 from http://www.psychologie.uzh.ch/fachrichtungen/psypath/ForschungTools/Schwerpunkte/4_Review_E-Health_Preschl_Wagner_Forstmeier_Maercker_CyberthRehab.pdf 
  • Obi T., Ishmatova, D. and Iwasaki, N.  (2012). Promoting ICT innovations for the ageing population in Japan. International Journal of Medical Informatics. Waseda University, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Japan.
  • WHO (1998) Fact Sheet N°135, Population Ageing - A Public Health Challenge, Retrieved December 10 from, http://www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact135.html
  • WHO (2011). What are the public health implications of Ageing? Q&A Retrieved December 10 from, http://www.who.int/features/qa/42/en/index.html

This fact sheet was developed by Soroya Julian, Young Professional/Consultant, eSAC Project.