Seniors warn against high-tech care

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Norway’s next generation of elderly has set itself apart from senior citizens in other countries. A majority of those questioned in a new international survey on elder care have high expectations, are skeptical about letting high-tech solutions take precedence over human contact, and they fear social isolation most of all.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the survey, conducted by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Oxford University among other institutions, questioned more than a thousand persons aged 50 to 60 from Norway, the US, Great Britain and Japan. The Norwegians seemed to have higher expectations for their care when they become elderly, and fully 75 percent feared social isolation, compared to only 41 percent of the Japanese seniors questioned. The British and American seniors were also less worried about the prospects of less social contact in their old age.

Paradox
In an apparent paradox, though, the Norwegians also expected to receive elder care in their own homes, instead of being placed in a nursing home, and they also expected a lower degree of family involvement in their care. Local governments that are responsible for elder care in Norway are expected to accommodate their needs at home, with the Norwegian seniors putting a much higher emphasis on the ongoing need for a private life than their counterparts in other countries.

The Norwegians didn’t outright reject high-tech solutions for their care, such as the use of robots to remind them when to take medicines or when to eat. They stressed, though, that such high-tech devices must not come at the expense of human contact and their privacy.

Nearly eight out of 10 Norwegians surveyed also fully expected that their local and regional authorities would be responsible for their care as elderly. That was in a class of its own in the survey, but also reflects Norway’s social welfare state into which Norwegians have paid relatively high taxes during their working lives. Norway’s state-funded health care and national health insurance is sharply at odds with the private health care system of, for example, the US, where citizens pay lower taxes but generally must arrange private health insurance and be able to pay for their own health care and elder care.

Bracing for the post-war baby boomers
The survey concentrated on persons who will make up the first portion of the so-called “elder wave” that’s due to crest as the post-World War II baby boomers reach retirement age and beyond. Researcher Steve DeMello of UC Berkeley told NRK that many of those questioned already are “users” of elder care services after overseeing their parents’ care.

“It’s therefore been very interesting to see what kinds of expectations they have,” DeMello told NRK. “And we see very clear patterns regarding the Norwegians.” He said the Norwegians’ expectations for care aren’t necessarily expensive: “As long as you get human contact, you’re open for many types of solutions,” he told NRK’s reporter.

Many senior citizens in Norway already are far more technologically savvy than their counterparts in other countries, and regularly use mobile telephones, e-mail and the Internet. DeMello noted that technology can thus create social networks for the elderly, for example through Skype conversations. “But human contact must not suffer because of technology,” he said.

Health Minister Johan Gahr Støre has stressed the use of technology in creating new solutions to handle the looming demand for elder care. Local governments have been criticized for not using more high-tech practices and lacking technological innovation. The key, suggests the survey, is to find a balance between the two.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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