Japan Post Group, IBM and Apple have announced that they to deliver up to 5 million iPads by 2020 to Japan’s rapidly growing elderly population. Each iPad will have a range of apps installed that will help connect an aging population with services such as healthcare their families and the greater community.
Elderly a growing problem in Japan
While many countries have a growing elderly population, in Japan it is a serious national issue. According to the Statistics Bureau of Japan its elderly make up around 25% of the population. By 2055 that number is expected to reach 40% as birth rates continue to dwindle.
Compare those numbers to those provided by the UN World Aging Population Report. In 2013 it said that the elderly made up, on average 12% of most populations. By 2050 they expect that to grow to 21% which is slower than the projected growth in Japan. The impact of this across Japan is an increasing isolation of its elderly population.
It is currently estimated that over 40% of senior citizens already live either alone or with just their spouses. This number is expected to continue to grow over the next four decades. Even where there is support it comes at a cost. The Japanese government estimates that more than 180,000 people aged between 15 and 29 currently provide care for an elderly family member or relative.
What apps and services are being provided?
The IBM press release list a range of benefits from this initiative including:
- iPad and its intuitive built-in apps, capabilities and features including FaceTime, Messages, Mail, Photos and iCloud Photo Sharing, along with access to rich content in the App Store, iTunes Store and iBookstore. iOS 8, offering award-winning accessibility features, including settings for low vision and hearing impaired users.
- Custom-built apps specifically for the elderly by IBM Global Business Services for reminders and alerts about medications, exercise and diet, along with direct access to community activities and supporting services such as grocery shopping and job matching.
- Exclusive cloud services of the IBM MobileFirst for iOS platform for data integration and security, analytics, and management of millions of devices; along with systems integration services and training for Japan Post employees.
- Pioneering text analytics and accessibility technologies, many invented in IBM Research – Tokyo, including Japanese natural language analysis and tracking to guide seniors and make the experience more natural.
- The nationwide infrastructure of Japan Post Group and its ability to cover the “last mile” to virtually every citizen of Japan. In addition to 24,000 post offices and a workforce of 400,000, Japan Post Group has existing financial relationships with nearly all of the 115 million adults in Japan.
The Japan Post Group already offers what it calls a Watch Over service. For a nominal monthly fee, family members can have personnel from the Japan Post Group check in on elderly relatives and report back to family members. By delivering iPads to the elderly it is hoped to enhance this service by provide family contact on top of visits from the Watch Over service.
According to Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post Group: “We are joining with two of the world’s most respected leaders in technology to bring our elderly generation into the connected world, expand our businesses by deepening relationships, and discover new ways to strengthen the fabric of our society and economy.”
Remote health monitoring for the elderly missing from this announcement
Over the last year IBM and other technology vendors have focused heavily on delivering healthcare through the use of technology. While this announcement does talk about alerts for medication and information about exercise and diet, it stops short of talking about the current wave of mobile healthcare applications that Apple and IBM have both announced in recent conference.
It is also noticeable that the announcement contains no quote or statement from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Perhaps this is to be part of a second phase but if so, it would seem like an opportunity missed. With the rise in smart watches and wearable technology there seems to be a distinct opportunity for one of Apple’s partners to quickly piggyback off of this initiative by using the iPads to collect detailed information on elderly residents and send that back to doctors.