A more meaningful old age

UEF Bulletin 2016

The IkäOTe project, launched at the Joensuu Campus last spring, gathers information, experiences and best practices relating to learning and civic participation among older people.

In Finland, the proportion of the elderly population keeps growing in relation to the working-age population. Issues related to the care and fate of the elderly are recurrent topics in the media, as there simply aren’t enough helping hands. The well-being of the elderly is no longer something that can be taken for granted.

“Attention is often paid just to the physical capacity and coping ability of the elderly, and the importance of mental well-being and maintaining cognitive skills is not highlighted enough,” says Professor of Special Education Eija Kärnä.

The IkäOte project, however, addresses these issues by focusing on the learning of the elderly and welfare technologies. The project studies and tests various technological solutions supporting the well-being and independent living of the elderly and people with memory disorders.

In addition to the University of Eastern Finland, the project partners include the City of Joensuu and Karelia University of Applied Sciences. The city’s home care services study and test welfare technologies related to safety and interaction, while students of Karelia University of Applied Sciences collect data for the project and also use this data in their final theses, among other things.

Expert Päivi Sihvo of Karelia University of Applied Sciences says that the project involves three aspects: generating new information, putting this information to practice, and training.

By working together, the project partners are able to identify best practices and make information available at the grass-roots level. This also enables timely customer feedback.                

 An automatic drug dispenser for home care customers was the first welfare technology tested as part of the project. The drug dispenser tells the customer when it’s time to take the medication. The goal of the experiment is to analyse the suitability of the drug dispenser for customers and how using it affects the workload and costs of home care.

“So far, we’ve only received positive feedback, as the device is easy to use and it has created a new kind of routine for the day,” explains Jaana Nykänen, a Welfare Technology Expert from the City of Joensuu.

Furthermore, by telling customers to take the medication at the right time, the automatic drug dispenser has enhanced their functional capacity. Improved functional capacity, in turn, translates into cost savings in home care.

“We didn’t initially think that the automatic drug dispenser would bring routine to customers’ day. In other words, this practical experiment revealed something we didn’t anticipate, and that’s good to take into consideration later in the event the drug dispenser is taken into use on a larger scale,” Nykänen says.

Next, the plan is to test tracking devices for people with memory disorders. The project also organises workshops in which the elderly are welcome to participate. In these workshops, they will work together with experts to design an app targeted at the needs of the elderly, for example. This app can be installed on a tablet computer.

“When planning services for the elderly, they are rarely included in the work. We, however, wanted them to participate as early as in the planning stage. We are working together to identify the kind of interaction the elderly need – whether they want to play games that activate the brain or do something else,” Kärnä says.

The two-year ERDF funding granted to the project by the Regional Council of North Karelia continues until the end of 2017. In addition to the partners, care and technology sector companies also participate in the events organised by the project. Päivi Sihvo points out that if people are expected to live in their own homes for longer, technology needs to come to their assistance and the related cooperation needs to be enhanced.

“The experiments carried out in the project give us models of successful experiences, especially when working together with experts of learning and practical doing.”

According to Eija Kärnä, the project has already brought about advantages during its first year.

“Mutual understanding between us project partners is growing all the time.”

Text: Nina Venhe Photo: Varpu Heiskanen

Learning – a right of the elderly

Learning is not a theme that comes up frequently when talking about the elderly. The concept of lifelong learning is familiar to us all – yet it doesn’t seem to apply to the elderly. Eija Kärnä hopes that the IkäOTe project will inspire discussion on learning as a right of older people.

When a person retires, the opportunities for learning new things can easily become limited to courses offered by community colleges, for example. According to Kärnä, these kinds of courses are great learning opportunities, but they are not available to everyone. Could older people’s opportunities for learning be facilitated? Learning new things prevents the progression of memory disorders, thus causing savings to society. The phrase "use it or lose it" also holds true for the brain.

Few technological applications are targeted at the elderly – and of those that are, few are related to treatment. Moreover, manuals for technological devices are clearly written for a younger audience. More and more things are only available electronically, although equal access to information should be safeguarded for all age groups. The participation of ageing citizens in our digitalised society should be a cause of much more concern. The mere availability of technology is not enough: users must learn how to use it.

The Finnish population is rapidly ageing, but does learning remain a right of the young?

Nina Venhe