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Digital developments for the elderly on the rise in Norway

The Nordic region's tech startup industry is geared towards creating tech in the healthcare sector with apps aimed at the elderly a growing segment

As an audience that is perceived to have missed their chance with digitisation, older generations are often left out of the tech conversation. But, in the Nordics, and especially Norway, there is a small but significant uprising of startups looking to reintroduce them to the discussion.

When it comes to the introduction of new technologies or the rise of new digital startups, the Nordic region is revered for the ability of its entrepreneurs to find a sub-sector or niche seemingly too risky or nuanced for other countries.

When it comes to specific, and sometimes marginalised, target demographics – such as children or the elderly – this notion takes on even more importance.

For children, this presents itself in the bypassing of traditional interactive whiteboards or general parental or teaching aids, to instead aim straight at the children themselves via e-learning devices or kid-friendly wearables.

The elderly perhaps presents an even bigger challenge, however. Having potentially missed the boat when it comes to many digital landmarks, to bypass carers to place tech in the hands of the elderly is novel and – as it turns out – vital.

“This mindset and philosophy derives from a Nordic startup trend to focus on how technology is enriching lives – how complex tech could be or how commercially viable we can make it,” said Stian Lavik, chief business officer at health tech startup Motitech.

For more than five years, the Norwegian company has gained traction from it base in Bergen for its motivation technology for indoor exercise bikes. Targeted towards care homes, the concept incorporates video technology which allows users to feel like they’re cycling familiar old routes, or explore destinations they always wanted to see.

“Of course, the implications are then both physical and mental,” Lavik added. “Users achieve better strength, better balance, have better nights’ sleep, are in less pain, experience an improvement in appetite, reduced anxiety, have better social interactions, and even see reduced dementia symptoms as a result of this channelled reminiscing and physical activity.”

The market comes to you

Perhaps most important is the notion of giving back control to a demographic that feels like everything is being done for them.

“Here, to introduce a technology, it needs to be need-driven. And if you’re reacting to a definite need, it only makes sense to then design that technology for the ones in need, rather than a carer or independent operator,” said Lavik.

“When you take this approach, as we’ve found, the market comes to you. When you’re thinking along the lines of building a global community or fixing a real social problem, then the product sells itself – you don’t have to come at it from a commercial angle.”

Another company already boasting a rich heritage off the back of such an approach is Oslo-incepted startup No Isolation. Having unveiled its AV1 telepresence robot to tackle the social issue of loneliness among children, there was a clear inbuilt ethos and digital capability to produce a similar offering for the older generation. This is now reflected through its KOMP device – a tool akin to a computer, but geared entirely towards the elderly.

“Following on from our success with AV1 in Norway, we were asked by the Norwegian Cancer Society to make something for the older population. The first thing we did was talk to senior citizens, and it quickly became apparent how important it was for them to stay connected to their families, and how they feel defeated by modern communication technology,” said Karen Dolva, No Isolation’s CEO and co-founder.

“At the same time, we noticed the speed at which younger generations of families were adopting new technologies as communication tools, increasing the barrier between them and their more elderly relatives who were more reluctant to try digital devices.

“By designing KOMP, we broke down those barriers, giving younger generations a familiar interface to the apps they already use, and providing seniors with a window into their loved ones’ worlds without having to learn new and complex interfaces.”

A more tech-savvy aged population

The problem has always been the lack of companies willing to take the plunge to refine digital products for a market segment that is often resistant to, or confused by, complex technological innovation.

Dolva agreed: “A lot of startups are focusing on the incredible capabilities of technology to achieve things that were impossible just a few years ago – virtual reality and artificial intelligence, for example – so the majority of focus is on advancing digital tools for the generations that adapt to them the fastest.

“That means the older generations aren’t necessarily having technology targeted at them. However, what we’ve noticed is that by creating a device for the elderly, we are actually improving the relationship across all generations, so it affects a much wider demographic than just the elderly.”

In Motitech’s case, the ramifications of its cycling and video concept are similarly social, bringing a new lease of life to a segment of society that often feels excluded or out of touch with modern advancements.

Both emphasise that, while this is an uncommon demographic to target with tech, it’s arguably one of the most important ones – not just because they’re underserved at present, but because of a general change in demographics which is seeing more people hit older ages.

In the future, the people hitting these ages will be those who grew up with technology, so to get ahead of the game and begin honing products suitable for such an audience is indeed a logical business decision, even if the mindset doesn’t revolve around business upshots.

“One day, as the aged population becomes more tech-savvy, we may need to adapt our solutions slightly, but overall, the effectiveness of products like ours for this demographic is in their simplicity,” said Dolva.

Lavik added: “At the moment, the starting points for many of the users are poor with regards to physical activity, so the effects of companies like Motitech are bigger. But we hope the trend evolves in the future, because the most important and pleasing thing for companies like us is to see these generations get some of their independence back.”

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