Wellness, Self-Care & Prevention
By 2036, around 27 million people in the UK will be over 65. Longer life expectancy is something to cherish and there is a raft of evidence demonstrating the productivity, creativity, vitality and participation of older adults in workplaces, communities, households, and families. With age, however, often comes age-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes as well as social challenges including isolation, loneliness and the associated impact on quality of life. It is vital that we can positively support older people, the estimated 1.4 million people in the UK living with learning disabilities and all those with additional care and support needs, ensuring people are able to live independent, happy lives. There are a number of challenges in the sector, however, with over 100,000 current vacancies in social care in England alone. To compound this, social and economic disparities mean those in lower-income groups often feel the burden of illness more acutely.
Could 5G connectivity enable more effective and equal care and support for individuals, helping to narrow the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged members of our society? Analogue telehealth services are set to be decommissioned in 2022 — a new generation of solutions is needed to both safeguard our existing social care services and build on the critical work already being done by the sector.
The ability of 5G to power future-fit technologies presents a solution. This is not about removing human interaction from social care, but instead using the capabilities of 5G to support improved outcomes across the system and, crucially, for people receiving care and support.
Amongst social care and support providers there are of course different extents of progress with digital technology. Across the UK, work is underway to support the infrastructure, skills and wider cultural shifts that will enable the sector to move towards adoption and use of 5G. From technology-based solutions to help tackle loneliness to aiding medication adherence and improving quality of life in palliative care, 5G could unlock opportunities to support and empower those receiving care and support, along with the social care sector itself.
One of the biggest challenges facing social care is recruitment: in England alone, there are over 100,000 vacancies. Technologies, powered by 5G, can help to remove some of the burden on stretched carers, supporting them to work smarter and enabling them to deliver person-centred care even in the face of staff shortages. 5G networks open up opportunities for non-intrusive, continuous monitoring of residents, from hydration and movement to when a resident is about to get out of bed. This enables early identification of issues, quicker intervention when needed and improved health outcomes for individuals. Additionally, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality can offer a boost to cognitive and emotional wellbeing, particularly for individuals with dementia.
Loneliness affects people’s mental health, increases the risk of developing dementia by as much as 20% and is even associated with reduced life expectancy. From virtual collaboration solutions to gaming apps and even emotional robots, 5G’s high bandwidth, reliability and low latency can help to tackle social isolation and overcome feelings of loneliness, enabling people to live richer, more connected lives.
Deploying 5G to promote the wellbeing and mental health of individuals will support the health and social care sector transition to a preventative model. High bandwidth-benefiting apps can tackle social isolation and boost digital confidence, while Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences can promote a better quality of life for those with chronic illness, who are unable to leave their homes or are receiving end-of-life care.
Chronic conditions can be more effectively managed in community and home settings with 5G. From remote monitoring to medication adherence, 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency can deliver next-level telecare, ensuring effective, continuous but non-intrusive oversight of individuals for quicker identification - and resolution - of issues and empowering individuals to feel more engaged with their own treatment. Devices connected to 5G are also expected to consume less power, reducing concerns over battery life. With increased quality and timeliness of care, remote monitoring can have a positive impact on individuals’ lives, offering them greater independence and confidence in their own homes, increased flexibility in their daily lives through not having to wait in for care visits, and a reduced need to explain their care and support needs, outcomes and experiences multiple times. It can also offer operational efficiencies and scale to care and support providers. Research shows that this technology could free up 1.1 million hours for GPs and 5G-enabled telecare will help reduce social care budgets by around five per cent, saving £890 million to reinvest in other services.
By 2036 39 percent of people will be over 65, which often comes with multiple conditions, such heart disease or diabetes, for individuals to manage. These improvements in life expectancy reflect advances in medicine and public health, as well as rising standards of living, better education, improved nutrition and changes in lifestyles. It is vital that we can positively support older people, the estimated 1.4 million people in the UK living with learning disabilities and all those with additional care and support needs, ensuring people are able to live independent, happy lives. 5G-enabled remote monitoring offers greater convenience and independence to individuals, helping people to confidently stay in their homes, safe in the knowledge that any issues can be quickly identified and addressed. It can also enable more efficient delivery of services, with less required district nurse visits and greater insight into an individual’s health, behaviour and wellbeing for more tailored and effective care.
With an overnight stay in a hospital bed costing the NHS £400 a night, extended stays and the issue of bed blocking have huge financial implications on a budget-constrained sector. What’s more, studies in Australia, US and the Netherlands show that older people can lose as much as 5 percent of their muscle strength for every day they spend in hospital. Of course, 5G can't single-handedly solve these complex challenges, but the high bandwidth, reliability and ultra-low latency of 5G networks can play a supporting role. Advanced connectivity enables pervasive real-time monitoring that allows hospitals to safely discharge people earlier, with greater confidence, fewer re-admissions and improved long-term outcomes.