Apple And IBM Are Joining Forces To Help Care For The Elderly -- In Japan

04/30/2015 12:38 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2015
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As many as 5 million iPads will be delivered to Japanese seniors by 2020 in a plan that hopes to "dramatically improve the lives of millions," said Apple CEP Tim Cook at a press conference announcing the program. The other goal of the initiative is to improve the "Watch Over" program run by the Japan Post Group, the country's postal service and its largest employer, which checks in on elderly customers for a monthly fee. And according to Bloomberg Business news, those behind the move also hope it will bolster falling iPad sales.

IBM will also provide the Japan Post with software and training on how to use the iPads. The postal service reaches every household in the country, and currently charges a small fee for its "Watch Over" service where the mail carriers check on elderly customers and report back to family members. The iPad program will enhance that service.

Seniors are about 25 percent of Japan’s population, but that figure is expected to reach 40 percent by 2060.

Combatting isolation and loneliness among the elderly sometimes takes a back seat to dealing with health issues, but as Cook said, "This is about improving the quality of life. There’s nothing more important than that.”

The timing of the announcement coincided with the release of a study from Philips, and Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, which showed that family caregivers are unintentional barriers to technology use by older adults in their care. At the same time, caregivers polled said they recognized the importance of technology to enrich the lives of those they care for. About 44 percent of caregivers said they were concerned that the older adults in their care are depressed or lonely. Yet, 67 percent of caregivers have not started any new enrichment activities with their care receiver in the past two years. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of caregivers believe their care recipient is open to using new technology.

The primary reason for not providing or teaching a care recipient how to use technology was lack of time. Caregivers in the study reported spending an average of 88 hours per month on caregiving activities. This is in addition to their own daily responsibilities; 72 percent work full time and 76 percent have children in their household.

“Caregivers are so overwhelmed by the demands of managing basic needs that they tend to only think of technology as tools to save time or provide safety,” said Bill Novelli, founder of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative.

With this new initiative, though, technology also might be thought of as a way to end isolation.

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