Israel sets up first innovation lab to boost tech for elderly aid

Simulated living space will enable startups to test their technologies in real-life scenarios for senior citizens

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of elderly hands (Pablo K, iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of elderly hands (Pablo K, iStock by Getty Images)

The “startup nation” is taking aim at helping the elderly make the most of their increased life expectancy with what it said is a “first ever” Innovation Lab designed to boost technologies to meet the challenges facing senior citizens.

As medical breakthroughs give us a shot at living longer, quality of life, rather than quantity, gains relevance, raising the question of how living longer will affect our well-being.

The lab was set up, with a NIS 5 million ($1.4 million) investment, by the National Insurance Institute of Israel, the nation’s social security agency, and the Center for Digital Innovation (CDI), a nonprofit that focuses on promoting digital innovation in healthcare, welfare, education and in cities.

The recently completed lab, on the premises of the CDI in Beersheba, will simulate the living environment of senior citizens, enabling startups to test their developing technologies in a “real-life” environment and get a feel of the kind of challenges senior citizens face in their daily routines. The so-called “living lab” offers a fully furnished home with a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. In and around the model home, new technologies can be tested: to help residents connect with their relatives, to improve medical treatment, to encourage engagement in more social activities.

“This unique lab is a first of a kind, designed to cope with the multi systemic challenges facing senior citizens today, in all of their life experiences,” said Izik Sabato, a fund manager at the National Insurance Institute. This is done by “simulating their life environment, in order to develop new and better services and solutions, to solve their adversities and to ensure a better social future.”

The new Innovation Lab, set up by the National Insurance Institute of Israel together with the Center for Digital Innovation (CDI), sets up scenarios which affect elderly citizens in their daily routines (Courtesy CDI)

The aging of the global population is set to become “one of the most
significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services,” according to a 2015 report by the United Nations.

According to the report, between 2015 and 2030, the number of people in the world aged 60 years or over is estimated to grow by 56 percent, from 901 million to 1.4 billion. Globally, the number of people aged 80 years or over, defined as the “oldest old,” is growing even faster than the number of older persons overall. Projections indicate that in 2050 the “oldest-old” will number 434 million, having more than tripled in number since 2015, the report said.

“Preparing for the economic and social shifts associated with an ageing
population is thus essential to ensure progress in development,” the report said.

The idea behind the lab is to show entrepreneurs that the needs of senior citizens are not isolated but are all part of one life that combines family, friends, changing medical circumstances, the need to keep their brains busy and welfare needs.

Illustrative image of an elderly woman with a cane (oneinchpunch, iStock by Getty Images)

Only an “innovative approach” that takes all of these elements into consideration, has a chance of “making a real and significant change” in the lives of senior citizens, the organizers said in a statement.

With this in mind, the lab offers four scenarios in which startups can play out the various situations encountered by the elderly and the services provided by the local and state institutions: the living area, which simulates their homes and interactions with families; the medical area, which simulates their encounters with the health system; the welfare area, where they interact with social services providers; and the education system, for creating relationships with teenagers through the education system or via the scouts.

Startups are already being housed in the lab. These include a company that created TV platforms to improve communications between the elderly and their families; a startup that developed a wireless monitoring platform for those who need nursing care, alerting caregivers when the patients may have fallen; and one that is developing a digital timeline platform, designed to let senior citizens tell their life story and share it with their loved ones.

The startups that use the lab will be provided information and challenges by the entities that deal with the elderly, including the National Insurance Institute, the Health Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Beersheba Municipality.

Together these institutions have already set out a number of tasks for the startups to address: find ways to prevent falls, alleviate loneliness, prevent the deterioration of those whose functionalities are already limited, administer pain medication and help in basic daily activities, like bathing and using the toilet or kitchen utensils.

Boaz Gur Lavie, co-founder of the Center for Digital Innovation (CDI) (Courtesy: CDI)

“The innovation lab we have established in the Negev is a first of its kind in the entire world,” said Boaz Gur Lavie, co-founder of CDI. The prolonged life expectancy of today’s senior citizens “has brought upon us new challenges” that have not been focused on by entrepreneurs.

“The market for these initiatives is huge and holds a great potential. Now we are simply giving a chance to the great minds of our startup nation to prove their capabilities in this area as well,” he said.

The startups’ solution will be tested in the lab and piloted in relevant areas around the city of Beersheba. And later, if successful, the newly  created solutions will be further implemented on a municipal and on a state level.

CDI was founded by entrepreneurs Ziv Ofek, Sharon Sasportas and Boaz Gur Lavie, in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University and the Beersheba Municipality.

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