The German association of the electronics industry, VDE, has called for politicians and insurance companies to increase their engagement in IT projects on ambient assisted living (AAL). 

VDE says there is massive potential for growth in the AAL market, if the right financial incentives are put in place and regulatory and political measures taken to encourage development.

According to VDE, IT solutions that help elderly people to stay in their homes longer will be a key to reduce the medical and financial burdens of an ageing society.

The title of the new position paper is ‘Intelligent Assistance Systems for a mature society’. In the paper, VDE proposes to build up a Europe-wide AAL community to foster research projects and to promote technical standards for interoperable homecare technology.

VDE describes such technology as covering both communication technology for surveillance and electronic homecare equipment like telemonitoring for improving medical care.

To ensure broader availability of these technologies in the homes of the elderly, VDE advocates offering tax relief or other financial incentives to home owners or construction companies. The goal of the incentives would be to make it more attractive to equip new buildings with the sensors and basic IT-infrastructure components that are needed for efficient home surveillance and home monitoring.

“We also urgently need studies that are backed by insurance companies to show the financial benefits of AAL projects for the social security systems”, said Dieter Czogalla, head of the innovative social care provider “Sozialwerk St. Georg”. He is a co-author of the VDE paper.

In an interview with E-Health Europe, Czogalla stressed that if AAL could help to keep people away from nursing homes this would save social security systems at least €3000 to €3,500 per person per month – the same sum a place in a nursing home in Germany costs on average.

Additional money could be saved by reducing hospital stays of chronically ill patients. As a rule of thumb, the costs of care go down 50% with telemonitoring for chronically ill patients, the authors of the paper claim.

Melanie Mora, a spokeswoman for VDE, said the association expects the market for such assistive technologies to grow massively in the coming years. She was unable though to give detailed projections about the current or future market size.

Instead she provided an outline of the numbers of potential customers. In Germany alone, the number of people at the age of 80+ will increase threefold from 3.7m today to more than 10m in 2050.

Supplementing the position paper, VDE provided the results of an expert panel that consisted of 78 out of 350 visitors of the first German AAL conference in January. On average, the experts expect that smart home products like sensor technology or video surveillance will become a mass market at some time around the year 2015.

When asked about the obstacles for AAL technology, most experts agreed that – apart from unsolved payment issues – a lack of interoperability and technical standards was the main problem that hampers a broader adoption of AAL technology. Melanie Mora said that the industry associations are working on this issue. Most visibly, a new international standard on multimedia home networks was presented just recently by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 62457:2007).

This new standard aims at a better interoperability of computers, consumer electronics, mobile phones and electronic household equipment so that these components can easier be connected to home networks.

This is relevant to AAL, because networks like these can be controlled easier than individual devices. When a person with dementia, for example, leaves home, a computer could automatically check if all dangerous devices are switched off. This only works if the devices are part of a home network.

At the moment, the new IEC-standard is making its way into the national standard organisations. In Central Europe, it will be available as DIN EN 62457 later in summer.


The VDE position paper (German language only)