WKC Forum: Innovation for Healthy Ageing
– Examples of current trends in research –
5 MARCH 2014 | KOBE - WHO Centre for Health Development (WHO Kobe Centre - WKC) held the first WKC Forum of the 2014 calendar year on one of its core programmatic themes: Innovations for Healthy Ageing. More than 70 participants were in attendance to learn about the latest research in three key areas of Japanese innovation for ageing populations, including academics and students, researchers, health practitioners, local government, industry, media, and private citizens of Hyogo prefecture. This WKC Forum followed the Global Forum on Innovations for Ageing Populations, held in Kobe in December 2013, and presented the opportunity to dive deeper into discussion on innovations in pharmaceuticals, robotics and e-health, and falls prevention.
Professor Kiyomi Sadamoto of the Yokohama College of Pharmacy presented on several current innovations to help older adults and their physicians or caregivers to manage their medications and their health. Many older patients suffer from functional or cognitive impairments that put them at risk of taking the wrong medication, in the wrong quantity, or at the wrong time. Professor Sadamoto presented research on the use of gels for taking multiple mediations at once. They are significantly easier to swallow than pills with water, which is particularly important for older patients with swallowing difficulty or who cannot take pills with water. She also presented research on new innovations in packaging that make medications easier to access for patients with diminished dexterity or sight. A third emerging innovation helps physicians to manage the patient’s medications and care by using card-shaped devices built into the medication packaging to record data on when pills are removed from their packaging, as well as data on the patient’s health at the time of the dose.
Professor Zhi-wei Luo of Kobe University presented examples of some of the leading innovations in robotics that he and his colleagues have engineered for the health and independence of older adults. As individuals continue to live longer, ageing has begun to transform societies in profound ways. This includes relatively diminishing human and financial resources to support us as we age. The advances in robotics presented by Professor Luo have shown that these technologies can help to mitigate this problem. Professor Luo and his team developed human-like robotic nurses, capable of sensing and processing information about the patient as well as the strength and care needed to help a disabled older adult to sit up or move. They also developed machines that can adapt to human capability for training or for support. Robotics include robotic systems as well, including sensors that can feed back information about a patient’s health and mobility, and predict falls or other health events. Robotic systems also offer virtual reality environments that can both test and stimulate brain function.
Dr Hyuntae Park, the Chief Investigator for Motor Function Activation at the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, presented his leading work on systematic approaches for health promotion and fall prevention. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults, causing hospitalizations, disability, and even death. Preventing falls is therefore extremely important for the health and independence of older adults. Dr Park and his team are conducting trials to test innovative preventative strategies for older adults at-risk of falling. His team screens older adults for fall risk using tools such as some of the aforementioned robotics for physical assessment, and iPad testing for cognitive impairment, as the causes of falls range beyond just diminished physical strength. After identifying the at-risk older adults in communities, Dr Park and his team are also testing various methods to intervene and prevent falls, including various forms of physical training, education for improved cognition, and even exercises combining physical and cognitive training.
Dr Teiji Takei, Director at the National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, led a lively panel discussion with the speakers, motivated by questions from the participants. The discussion primarily covered four main topics, including improving research design, increasing collaboration between innovators across sectors, applications of science and technology for health, and how the WHO can support innovation and ageing. However, collaboration was at the core of the discussion, even as the Forum concluded and the conversation moved into the hallways. The conversation moved from knowledge sharing, to problem solving, to partnership, and large agreement that these conversations, even across sectors, need to continue.