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How Connected Care Technology supports older people to live independently for longer



Paul Berney, CMO at Anthropos, explores how connected care technology can improve older people’s lives.

Within Connected Care, we are all working towards the same goal; enabling older people to maintain their independence for longer. One way of achieving this is by pioneering new technologies that support better understanding of the needs of older people. 

The 2021 Census confirmed what many of us who work within the Connected Care sector have long known; our population is ageing. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of people aged 65 and older has risen from 16.4 per cent to 18.6 per cent in the UK. In addition to this, life expectancy in the UK has also increased by an average of one year since 2010. This means that, on average, men are living until 79 years old, and women until 80 years old. Our ageing population is coupled with a falling birth rate, which, in 2020 hit the lowest level recorded since 2002 with 613,936 live births recorded. 

This data reflects the simple fact that within the UK we will have more older people living for longer, but there may be fewer people to care for them. We are already seeing reports of the unsustainable pressures facing the NHS, which are stemming from workforce shortages. However, these pressures will only grow as we have more older people in society, which will inevitably lead to further pressures placed on every part of the care continuum.  

Currently, many older people who live at home are reliant on routine health checks to detect changes in their wellbeing. This is due to the fact that the technology used to support older people in their homes has for many years been restricted to reactive, telecare solutions. But as the care system struggles to cope with the volume of people it needs to support, a switch to proactive and preventative methods would support both the delivery of better care and the creation of better care outcomes for older people and their families. 

The role of technology and its impact on health care expectations

Over the past 20 years, technology has advanced to a point where, for many, it is fully integrated into everyday life. Throughout this period, we have seen developments to home care solutions that aid physical mobility including stair lifts and handrails. However, we have seen a lack of integration of digital technologies into care solutions. But, it is a fallacy that older people are opposed to or uncomfortable with technology. Today’s older people have witnessed the creation of the digital age and many have become accustomed to technology supporting them in a variety of ways throughout their middle and later life. 

I believe that those experiences of technology have led to a change in expectations for both older people and their families. For example, we know it is now possible for a watch to detect the number of steps someone takes and deliver reminders to move when it has detected sedentary periods of the day. This technology can be adapted for older people. A quick Google search will pull up a huge number of responses explaining how these devices can best be used for older people, and the best way to understand the data that comes from them.

While awareness of wearable technology is growing, less is known about the kinds of passive technologies that are used in Connected Care to build a picture of someone’s life.

How do Connected Care Platforms work?

Connected Care Platforms use the data collected from sensors installed around a home that monitor the environment that people are living in, their daily routine and patterns of behaviour, alongside their physiological wellbeing and their safety and security. These sensors collect data, which is transferred to a cloud-based platform where it is analysed and processed, before being turned into intelligence. This intelligence is shared with family and carers to help them to build a more complete understanding of what goes on inside the home when they are not there. Once you have better intelligence about someone’s care needs you can make better informed decisions about their care. This constant monitoring is so much more powerful than making decisions based on a snapshot of someone’s life.

Connected Care Platforms, like Anthropos, can build on that understanding of an older person’s patterns of behaviour through analysing trends over time. Simply put, we see changes in someone’s daily routine that may not be visible to others. The older person themselves may not be aware of changing sleep patterns or activity levels. Connected Care Platforms provide families and carers with an evidence base to inform better decisions to be made. This information also allows different conversations to be had between carers, family members and older people in order to identify the care which they truly need.

Once you build an understanding of the normal day to day behaviour of older people, it becomes easier to identify anomalies which could be indicators of a decline in wellbeing. For example, if an older person boiled their kettle repeatedly, Anthropos could alert the carer to this as a potential sign of cognitive decline. Or, if an older person was to fall in their home, the platform could flag a lack of movement to a carer. With this knowledge, the carer can then organise proactive care solutions to improve conditions that may have gone unnoticed or worsened over time. 

How Connected Care technology helps carers and family members

For many people with ageing parents, the reality is that they can’t physically check up on them as much as they would like. Our research shows that 51 per cent of people aged 40 years old would like an update on their parents’ wellbeing at least once a day, and 67 per cent of people aged 40 years old think their parents would be open to having Connected Care technologies installed as it allows safety to be ensured in a non-intrusive way. 

One customer told us that having Connected Care “gives a bit of relief I think, especially with having the app on the phone, because we can keep checking it. I am so used to them saying they are fine, they’re coping, but they aren’t. I can see for myself they’re not”.

As we are faced with an increasing number of older people in the UK, it is clear that the need for innovative care solutions will only grow. Connected Care proposes an intelligent solution to the challenges faced by the sector. The ability for Connected Care technology to become predictive allows older people, their carers and family members to take their wellbeing into their own hands. This technology stops issues from occurring by giving carers the ability to provide meaningful care when it is needed, rather than in the aftermath of an injury or illness. 

Connected Care technology offers a discrete solution to this problem whilst, more importantly, allowing older people to maintain their independence in a place of their choosing for longer.


Ageing fight revealed in new ‘muscle map’



The first comprehensive cell atlas of ageing human muscle reveals the intricate genetic and cellular processes behind muscle deterioration and mechanisms to counteract it.

How muscle changes with ageing, and tries to fight its effects, is now better understood at the cellular and molecular level with the first comprehensive atlas of ageing muscles in humans.

Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and their collaborators at Sun Yat-sen University, China applied single-cell technologies and advanced imaging to analyse human skeletal muscle samples from 17 individuals across the adult lifespan. By comparing the results, they shed new light on the many complex processes underlying age-related muscle changes.

The atlas uncovers new cell populations that may explain why some muscle fibres age faster than others. It also identifies compensatory mechanisms the muscles employ to combat ageing.

The findings offer avenues for future therapies and interventions to improve muscle health and quality of life as we age.

This study is part of the international Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the human body, to transform understanding of health and disease.

As we age, our muscles progressively weaken. This can affect our ability to perform everyday activities like standing up and walking. For some people, muscle loss worsens, leading to falls, immobility, a loss of autonomy and a condition called sarcopenia. The reasons why our muscles weaken over time have remained poorly understood.

In this new study, scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Sun Yat-sen University, China used both single-cell and single-nucleus sequencing techniques along with advanced imaging to analyse human muscle samples from 17 individuals aged 20 to 75.

The team discovered that genes controlling ribosomes, responsible for producing proteins, were less active in muscle stem cells from aged samples. This impairs the cells’ ability to repair and regenerate muscle fibres as we age. Further, non-muscle cell populations within these skeletal muscle samples produced more of a pro-inflammatory molecule called CCL2, attracting immune cells to the muscle and exacerbating age-related muscle deterioration.

Age-related loss of a specific fast-twitch muscle fibre subtype, key for explosive muscle performance, was also observed. However, they discovered for the first time several compensatory mechanisms from the muscles appearing to make up for the loss. These included a shift in slow-twitch muscle fibres to express genes characteristic of the lost fast-twitch subtype, and increased regeneration of remaining fast-twitch fibre subtypes.

The team also identified specialised nuclei populations within the muscle fibres that help rebuild the connections between nerves and muscles that decline with age. Knockout experiments in lab-grown human muscle cells by the team confirmed the importance of these nuclei in maintaining muscle function.

Veronika Kedlian, first author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Our unbiased, multifaceted approach to studying muscle ageing, combining different types of sequencing, imaging and investigation reveals previously unknown cellular mechanisms of ageing and highlights areas for further study.”

Professor Hongbo Zhang, senior author of the study from Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, said: “In China, the UK and other countries, we have ageing populations, but our understanding of the ageing process itself is limited. We now have a detailed view into how muscles strive to maintain function for as long as possible, despite the effects of ageing.”

Dr Sarah Teichmann, senior author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and co-founder of the Human Cell Atlas, said: “Through the Human Cell Atlas, we are learning about the body in unprecedented detail, from the earliest stages of human development through to old age.With these new insights into healthy skeletal muscle ageing, researchers all over the world can now explore ways to combat inflammation, boost muscle regeneration, preserve nerve connectivity, and more. Discoveries from research like this have huge potential for developing therapeutic strategies that promote healthier ageing for future generations.”

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UK body calls for more ageing research backing



The British Society for Research on Ageing (BSRA) is calling for more public backing in the UK for research to help people stay healthier for longer, as an alternative to charities that support research on diseases.

The greatest risk factor for disease is ageing, but we have very little charitable support for research into how to slow ageing, the organisation warns.

Many diseases such as cancers and heart disease tragically shorten lives far too early, or like Alzheimer’s and arthritis, destroy quality of life for patients and carers. There is understandably huge public charitable support for more research. However, the greatest risk factor for those diseases, and even infectious diseases like COVID, is ageing.

Yet in comparison there is currently very little support for research to understand how we can slow ageing to prevent disease. This approach may be more productive in the long term to fight disease. Furthermore, keeping people healthier for longer, or avoiding chronic diseases all together, would be the most favourable outcome.

The UK population is ageing fast, putting pressure on the NHS and the economy. Despite this pressing problem all around us, there is no accessible way for people to support research into ageing in the UK. The BSRA aims to change that.

With a very small budget and almost completely run by volunteers, the BSRA has successfully funded several small research projects but progress needs to be accelerated. More funding is needed because it takes years to see the effects of ageing, so studies are long. Also ageing affects individuals in different ways, meaning that large numbers of people must be studied to make firm conclusions.

Therefore, there is an urgency to get studies funded and the BSRA has decided to launch an ambitious fundraising campaign to boost research into ageing. Initially, the Society aims to fund a series of one year research projects at the Masters degree level at universities across the UK and with plans to raise much more in the future to support longer and more ambitious projects that will impact the lives of the general public.

Chair of the BSRA, Prof David Weinkove from Durham University, says “The time is now to really get behind research into the biology of ageing. We have fantastic researchers across the country, but they are held back by a lack of funding. Evidence-based research is needed to understand how we people can stay healthier for longer, and to then we must make that knowledge available to as many people as possible”.

Dr Jed Lye says “This is a great opportunity for the public to help, for corporations to contribute, or philanthropists wanting a large impact with a relatively small donation; every £20,000 we raise can fund an entire year of research into ageing and longevity, and gets a budding scientist their research qualification.”

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More action needed to prevent arthritis, say researchers



MSU researchers have concluded that little is being done to address the prevalence of early knee osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms faced by patients after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, calling for more action.

Scholars from Michigan State University’s Department of Kinesiology have published a new study in the Journal of Athletic Training in January showing these OA symptoms persist throughout the first year following surgery and need to be addressed with early intervention.

“We’re trying to change the narrative,” said Assistant Professor Matthew Harkey, who authored the study. “We see fairly young, active individuals experiencing extensive symptoms, but these symptoms are not interpreted by clinicians as something that may be related to osteoarthritis.

“Ignoring these symptoms might be setting them up to experience long term decline and function.”

ACL reconstruction is an arthroscopic surgical procedure that replaces torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee with a graft. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 400,000 procedures are completed each year in the United States.

A 2017 study showed that approximately 14 million individuals in the United States alone suffer from symptomatic early knee OA.

The research team examined a data set of 82 individuals who underwent ACL reconstruction, each of whom completed a survey regarding their knee pain and symptoms following surgery. The results showed nearly one-in-four participants reported persistent early arthritis symptoms from 6 to 12 months after knee surgery.

In April 2024, Harkey will head to Austria and present similar research at the Osteoarthritis Research Society International Conference. This time, he used data from 3,200 individuals supplied by the New Zealand ACL Registry and found that close to one-in-three had early knee OA symptoms up to 24 months after ACL reconstruction.

The importance of intervention

Not addressing these symptoms in a timely manner places patients at risk for long-term structural decline, says Harkey. Although the study doesn’t show that patients experiencing symptoms will develop early OA, it heightens athletic trainers’ awareness of the possibility of symptoms, which could be addressed with intervention.

“It’s a bit complex – we can’t outright say arthritis is developing, but there’s a large group of patients whose symptoms linger long after surgery,” Harkey pointed out. “Often, clinicians assume that these post-operative symptoms will naturally improve as patients reengage with their usual activities. However, what we’re seeing suggests these symptoms persist and likely require a targeted approach to manage or improve them.”

According to Harkey, intervention could include exercise or physical therapy to help maintain strength and movement. He added that the healthcare infrastructure remains a barrier for patients, who often are limited to a low number of physical therapy visits through their healthcare plans.

The co-authors of the study with MSU affiliations include Ashley Triplett, assistant professor in the College of Education; Sheeba Joseph, associate professor, Colleges of Human and Osteopathic Medicine; Francesca Genoese, doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology; Michael Shingles and Andrew Schorfhaar of Sparrow Hospital, alums of the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Moving forward, Harkey aims to demonstrate how early knee OA after ACL reconstruction may lead to structural joint damage over time.

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