We often hear or read that something will happen in the future. You need to be prepared for what is to come and you need to ‘set yourself up’ to handle these coming challenges.
But what if the future is already here? And the challenge is that we can’t adapt quickly enough?
“We must think creatively. Working together to build a better society and healthcare supported by technology is more important than ever.”
This is what Professor Artur Serrano of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology NTNU said. There, he works in the Department of Neuromedicine and Exercise Science. For over 30 years he has been researching and innovating. He also worked for many years at his E-Health research center in Norway.
A growing number of universities offer courses and degrees in healthcare technology and health innovation. You need to tap into the potential of technology and your workforce needs new competencies. This is due to the shortage of workers, especially in the medical sector.
Therefore, NTNU has launched an interdisciplinary course with an interest in creating an innovative society with future medical technology. Here students can think creatively and prototype new technical services.
The classroom is called “The Village” and is headed by Serrano. Students work in groups to explore different challenges and create prototypes to solve them.
Some of the themes are:
- How can social robots and sensor technology help people with dementia?
- How can physicians digitally follow up patients with COPD and heart failure?
- How can artificial intelligence contribute to mapping the conditions of people with dementia?
- How can technology help combat loneliness and depression?
Serrano argues that a new way of thinking is needed in the health field. Her 25-30 students who take this course each year come from a variety of professional backgrounds and experiences. Engineers, social scientists, architects, medical students, nursing students, etc.
“Diversity in abilities is important and gives participants the opportunity to think creatively. We interpret needs differently and this is what we see. It’s about finding solutions that work,” says Serrano.
The health services created must be sustainable. How will people be acquired, how will the organization prepare, and who will pay for the new solution?
Serrano has some experience with research projects, and after building a good prototype, he was put in a drawer when his funding ran out.
“Scaling up technology tools is difficult. People need to be educated on how digital technology can be used in their care. We need suppliers to deliver technology that works in their daily work. We need an organization that supports everyone in the world,” he says.
Digitization and social robotics capabilities will be built by researchers, healthcare workers, and citizens. We need to create links between academia and technology companies.
Serrano highlights LIFEBOTS as an international project. 13 partners come from countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Romania and South Korea.
“We are developing strategies and collaborating between industry, universities and non-governmental organizations. To benefit from social robots, we need to engage in cross-sectoral innovation. We look at everything ethically, legally, our starting point is always the needs of our users,” says Serrano.
customized sensory stimulation
More and more people around the world are getting dementia. This is so that we can have better health and live longer.
In project SENSE-GARDEN, launched in 2016, researchers have explored how technology can improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers.
By creating a physical sensory room, people can watch pictures and movies and listen to music that is filled with memories and meaning. These feelings can connect them to reality.
Serrano says he studies how sensory stimulation affects the amygdala, which in turn affects memory. The amygdala is a part of the brain that is particularly important for learning, memory, and social behavior.
“Dementia is one of the biggest health challenges, so it’s important to find something that can improve cognitive function and quality of life,” says Serrano.
The project installed sensory gardens in four countries: Belgium, Portugal, Romania and Norway.
Research shows that health care workers, especially in care facilities, feel that working in the sensory garden has made them more aware of their patients and their needs.
A small study conducted in a Romanian hospital showed that users’ health benefited from this measure.
“Now we want to gain more knowledge through more research,” says Serrano.
Growing garden city
The Norwegian Dementia Plan 2025 states that “A dementia friendly society is a better society for all. A society that promotes inclusion, equality and an understanding of individual needs and challenges.”
Some people with mild dementia can stay at home for a period of time while being monitored. This can be done physically or digitally by a medical professional, and tools such as sensor technology, safety alarms and GPS can be installed in the patient’s home.
Others with cognitive impairment cannot live in their homes. Garden cities, also known as “dementia villages,” are being built in several locations around the country, Serrano said.
“It’s much better than living in a closed ward in a nursing home. The goal of the Garden Village is to provide a sense of everyday life within a facility with shops, cafes, culture and outdoor areas. You can have both freedom and social interaction in your home,” he says.
In Norway, places like Hogeweyk in Holland were inspired and one of the first to try the concept. With Queen Ingrid’s Gardens in Oslo (link in Norwegian) opening in 2023, we want caregivers, visitors and volunteers to actively participate in the Garden Village.
“We will explore new living situations, how they work for residents and employees. What is the role of digital technology here? These are some questions,” says Serrano.
NTNU acquires the knowledge to ensure that its research results in new and innovative solutions that benefit society and social life. Development goals:
- Strengthen long-term cooperation with established businesses and the public sector to improve innovation capacity
- Increase the number of staff and student innovations, commercialization projects and startups
- Include innovation training in student education
Chobanu et al. A Case Series of ICT-Based Multimodal Intervention Programs for People with Major Neurocognitive Impairments: The SENSE-GARDEN Project, HSOA Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 2022. DOI: 10.24966/GGM-8662/100137
Goodall et al. Towards personalized dementia care through meaningful technology-supported activities: a multisite qualitative survey by care professionals, BMC Geriatrics,roll. February 21, 2021. DOI: 10.1186/s12877-021-02408-2