The European Commission has unveiled plans for a new €1bn European Action Plan to research the effectiveness of the use of ICT in improving the life of older people at home, in the workplace and in society in general.

“Ageing Well in the Information Society” is a new research project, aimed at ensuring that by 2020 Europeans are able to invest in a range of IT products that could help improve their life after retirement.
The Action Plan is accompanied by a new joint European research programme raising over €1bn in research investment on ICT targeted at improving the life of older people at home, in the workplace and in society in general

The EC’s Commissioner for the Information Society and Media Directorate, Viviane Reding, said: “Europe’s ageing population is a challenge for our job market and its social and health systems. But it is also an economic and social opportunity. ICT will provide new and more accessible products and services to meet the needs of older people.”

By 2020, 25% of the EU’s population will be over 65, and by 2050 spending on health and long-term care is expected to triple, though the total wealth for this age group is predicted to reach €3000bn.

The EC predict that the future elderly population will want to invest in ICT to allow them to stay active and productive for longer, and continue to enjoy their life without worries.

The aims of the Action Plan are:

• overcoming technical and regulatory barriers to market development, through market assessments and by facilitating the exchange of best practice between member states;
• raising awareness, and building consensus via stakeholder cooperation in 2007 and the establishment of a best practice internet portal
• accelerating take-up through, for example, a set of pilot projects and a European award scheme for smart homes and independent living applications;
• boosting research and innovation by immediately supporting a joint public-private research programme dedicated to “ambient assisted living”. It aims to foster the emergence of innovative, ICT-based products, services and systems for Europe’s ageing population.

The EC says that the two initiatives will help to promise a triple win for Europe: improved quality of life and social participation for older people in Europe, new business opportunities for Europe’s industries and more efficient and more personalised health and social services.

Commissioner Reding added: “These two initiatives will mobilise digital technologies that will improve the daily lives and social participation of older people and create new opportunities for Europe’s industry.”

Between now and 2013, the EU. member states, and the private sector will invest more than €1bn in research and innovation for ageing well: some €600m in the ambient assisted living programme, an expected €400m in the EU’s latest research framework programme and about €30m this year in the EU’s ICT Policy Support Programme.

The EC hopes that the research will help Europe to become a lead market in ICT for “ageing well” with the research aimed at developing more practical and simpler appliances that are easier to understand and use has a much broader scope of application.

At present, the majority of older people do not yet enjoy the benefits of the digital age – low cost communications and online services that could support some of their real needs – since only 10% use the internet. Severe vision, hearing or dexterity problems, frustrate many older peoples’ efforts (21% of the over 50s) to engage in the information society.