The UK’s population of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by six million to 16.1 million by the year 2032. As people are living longer, the health services are under increasing pressure to deal with conditions related to the frailty that comes with age. Chronic diseases that are associated with growing older such as Alzheimer’s, type-2 diabetes and dementia are quickly becoming the biggest pressure on health services around the world.

The Royal Academy of Engineering Panel for Biomedical Engineering and Age UK held a joint conference in Sheffield on 16 May titled Cost-effective care for older people: how technology can make a difference. It provided insights into the role that engineering technology and design can play in providing more effective and cost-effective care and support for the UK’s ageing population. Experts at the conference stated that through engineering developments, sufferers from long-term conditions can achieve the ultimate goal of maintaining their independence, living at home (or a residence of their choice) and staying out of hospital.

Dr Matthew Norton, Social Research Manager at Age UK, revealed that, contrary to popular assumption, the older population does embrace technology. He said: “Age UK research shows that older people embrace technology but do so on their own terms. There is now a critical mass of evidence that technology can help in the care of older people.” He also described how industry’s poor understanding of the needs of older people hinders the sale and distribution of assistive technology.

Dwayne Johnson, from Halton Borough Council, revealed that use of technology not only creates efficiency savings but has real positive outcomes. He presented evidence from the NHS whole systems demonstrator, the largest randomised control trial in the world ever held for telecare and telehealth. It showed a 20% reduction in the number of people being admitted to in an emergency hospital, a reduction in those requiring treatment in A&E or even needing to be in hospital at all.

There were strong affirmations for introducing more technology into the care and nursing home settings for the benefit of those who live there from the audience as well as the speakers. However, it was also agreed that it is important that society does not lose sight of the need to spend time with older people when caring for them.

The conference was well received and attained a lot of political support. Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, said:

“This is a timely and important conference. Issues such as access to care, adaptations to people’s homes, or expensive medical procedures are becoming increasingly commonplace, and as a society we need to respond better to them, and quickly. Every part of society needs to respond to this challenge... Engineering has a vital role to play in helping to address the issues of an ageing population.”

Linda McCavan, MEP, Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “With almost a quarter of the population expected to be over 65 by 2034 we know that there will be a dramatic increase in the amount of people suffering from dementia, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases…It is vital governments and healthcare systems are prepared for this change, not just for the increase in people needing treatment but for the escalating costs this will inevitably involve. Engineering has a vital role to play, not only in ensuring elderly people are able to live their lives in comfort and independence but also by making care more affordable.”

“The Royal Academy of Engineering and Age UK will both have a critical role to play in helping the government and NHS deal with the UK’s ageing population and by working together I believe they can ensure the UK is prepared to meet this challenge.”

Watch the video from this event

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK's most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain's engineering community.
  1. Age UK, the UK's largest charity for older people, was formed in 2009 to combine the operations of Age Concern and Help the Aged. It also includes separate but interdependent charities for the nations: Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI as well as its commercial services arm, Age UK Enterprises.

For more information please contact

Katherine MacGregor at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel: 020 7766 0623; email: Katherine MacGregor