05 Feb Review of the Global Engineering Debate – Healthcare Engineering for the Ageing Population
The continuous advancement in engineering technology and medicine have improved human comfort and life-expectancy. For instance the average life expectancy for the Maltese population currently stands at 82 years of age as opposed to circa 65 year old in the 1950’s. This gave rise to an ever increasing ageing population that effectively requires new technologies and social caring means to provide the elderly with sustainable living. Efforts can be directed towards providing the engineering technology for the support of independent living and/or enhanced support in specialised retirement homes. As part of the IMechE Global Engineering Debate the Malta Group of Professional Engineering Institutes (MGPEI) local representative for IMechE conducting a debate to identify current and future engineering technological needs to sustain the ageing population with the theme ‘Healthcare Engineering for the Ageing Population’.
The event was chaired by Eur. Ing. Mike Brewer and organised by Prof. Ing Duncan Camilleri. The panel consisted of a variety of professionals including a consultant in orthotics and prosthesis, an university mechanical engineering academic whose research is directed towards biomechanics, an architect/civil engineer that is currently conducted research on spatial awareness for people suffering with dementia, a physiotherapist who works a leading company that provides retirement homes for the elderly and a head nurse also forming part of another leading company that provides residential units for the elderly but focused more on independent living. Together the panel were able to identify different engineering technologies available to the society and directed towards helping the elderly live a better life. The event was well attended by various engineers and other professional people with a mix of age.
The chairman gave an opening speech introducing the panel members and the scope of the debate. A pre-debate poll was conducted amongst the audience and panel members asking the attendees to identify which priority area should Malta address through engineering technology to promote sustainable living for the elderly. Figure 1 shows the corresponding results for the pre-debate poll with providing more technology towards assistance for life at home and independent living scoring the highest.
Each panel member was asked to give a short speech about their work and what engineering technology is available to assist them in the daily work. They also gave an indication of why in their own opinion they voted for a particular priority area. This triggered various conflicting ideologies that gave rise to almost a 2 hour long debate with the audience also intervening and giving their opinion. At the end the debate converged to a common understanding that a vast amount of engineering technology exists to aid the elderly that will surely advance follow further research and technological development. However there is little awareness about what technology exists and current elderly generations are not making full use of this technology as a result of technological costs and reluctance to integrate with engineering artefacts and systems to aid their life. This will probably change considering that the younger generation are fully conversant with new technology such as mobile phones. It was also clear that further funding is required from the government to sustain and make the current technology cheaper and available to elderly homes for better independent living.
Following the debate another poll was conducted with the same question being asked at the pre-debate. Figure 1 also shows the results attained after the debate. In this case providing assistance for life at home and independent living still scored the highest however more striking the audience identified that better and more diverse retirement homes for the elderly should be provided that embraces the engineering technology available at hand while making life for the elderly more pleasant both in terms of social aids and specific needs. It was also established that the current healthcare system offered by the Maltese government in cases where the elderly are ‘bedridden’ is excellent and as such no score was attained for better healthcare providers.
After the debate the panel and audience enjoyed some festive cheer and appetizers provided by the Group.