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Vol 22, No. 02, February 2018   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Assistive technology: a benison for the disabled and elderly
New developments in the medical community have always contributed to the welfare of the geriatric population and differently abled citizens. The matter of fact that the ability and feasibility of elders to cope up with their feeble health at home settings has been a pain point for years. Safety is another critical factor that has added to the woes of the developers of such systems. However, recent advances in assistive technology has been a silver lining for the distressed. Garima Chandra and Soumya Das elaborate on this.

Assistive technology is a blanket term for technologies and equipment such as assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices, which are used by older people and the disabled. Some popular examples of this technology are remote health monitoring systems, video monitors, electronic sensors, and equipment such as door monitors, bed alerts, pressure mats, smoke and heat alarms, and fall detectors.

The field of medical science has been seeking new pathways to develop novel medicines and therapies that promise to improve treatment protocols of patients. Recent developments in novel technologies has led to important contributions for taking care of older and disabled people. Disabled and elderly assistive technologies constitute rehabilitative devices that provide additional accessibility to individuals with cognitive difficulties, impairments, and disabilities. These assistive technologies are used by the disabled and elderly patients to improve their quality of life and health outcomes, assist in independent living, and reduce healthcare costs by assisting manual caregivers.

Over the years, the market has witnessed tremendous developments in assistive technologies. These technologies have evolved both in terms of performance and characteristics. In 2016, the global disabled and elderly assistive technologies industry was worth $22,466 million. Analysts at Allied Market Research project that this figure will reach $37,610 million by 2023, growing at a whopping CAGR of 7.8%.

As impaired mobility can interfere with the most activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), mobility assistive aids come to the rescue of the affected people. Having said that, mobility assistive aids manufacturers have raked in the highest in 2016 compared to any other equipment in the industry. Advancements in technology have contributed to the sales figures as well as led to the introduction of novel devices including Segways, commonly known as golf cars, and technically jargonized as “other power-driven mobility devices" (OPDMDs). These devices are known to facilitate movement or mobility in non-pedestrian routes. Such innovations have helped people with imputed limbs to lead a normal life and increase their participation in the society. Statically perspectives state that the mobility assistive aids market would grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 8.9% through 2023.

Mobility assistance aids, assistive furniture, bathroom safety & assistive products, and communication aids are some of the classic examples of assistive technologies. Communication aids are classified into subtypes such as speech & writing therapy devices, hearing aids, and vision & reading aids.

Communication aids are devices that helps an individual to communicate more effectively. These were the highest revenue grossers of the industry in 2016, garnering $7,948. SMEs at Allied Market Research project that this market could reach $12,190 by 2023, at a growth rate of 6.4%.

Hearing loss: a lurking peril for humankind

Around 360 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, of that, nearly 91% (328 million) are adults, and 9% (32 million) are children. Hearing loss can be caused due to various factors such as genetic, congenital, infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, drug abuse, exposure to excessive noise, and ageing. Most of the people use hearing aids to overcome this condition. Hearing aid is a device designed to improve hearing by amplifying sound to the aural organ. Hearing aids are classified as medical devices in most countries, and regulated by the respective regulations. These devices are further subsegmented into canal hearing aids, receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) aids, cochlear implants, behind-the-ear (BTE) aids, bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA), and in-the–ear (ITE) aids.

Hearing loss remains a neglected problem across the globe despite the revolutionary advances in the medical fraternity. According to the 2012 estimates of WHO, nearly 5.3% of the global population suffer from disabling hearing loss, a condition in which hearing loss is greater than 40 dB in adults (15 years or older) and greater than 30 dB in children (0-14 years). Market estimates showed that the prevalence is higher in the regions of South Asia, Asia-Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a major concern for a majority of people with hearing loss living in low- or middle-income countries with little or no access to hearing aids.

Increasing incidence of hearing disorders and rise in geriatric population in the world population have led to cutting-edge advances in medical research. Extensive study and exploration of different technologies have led to the emergence of novel devices such as cochlear implants and bone-anchored hearing aids (BAHA), which offer a promising future for people with auditory defects.

Cochlear implants are used by people who face difficulty in speech recognition and listening to help them differentiate speech in reverberant situations, understand sound from television or telephone, and identify sound from a distance. In addition, hearing aids feature acoustic scene classifiers, which help hearing aids to classify and identify any sound on the basis of background noise, speech in quiet, or in noise, music, wind, and number of other parameters. Moreover, microchip and wireless technologies are useful for patients using hearing implants. In line with the strategy, Kanso Sound Processor, developed by Cochlear Ltd. in September 2016, provides a flagship cochlear implant model that combines dual-microphone technologies with auditory scene classifier, which automatically adjusts the sound processing based on the listening environment. Thus, the device provides effortless hearing experience to users. Furthermore, technological innovations have led to the development of small, miniaturized hearing aids, which are not externally visible to assist patients avoid social stigma. This has increased the adoption rate of hearing aids in the recent years. Thus, it can be concluded that technological innovations in the field of hearing care devices have led to the development of advanced devices, and opened new frontiers for the field of innovative communication devices.

Home care: a cue to develop advanced disabled assistive devices

Home care has been prevalent among the geriatric population dwelling in developed countries. The use of assistive devices, such as mobility devices including wheelchairs, mobility scooters, crutches & canes and walkers & rollators, has surged in the recent years.

Increased awareness of furniture and bathroom safety products have also gained popularity among elders. More companies in the recent decade have inclined toward innovative devices to improve health-related outcomes and facilitate long-term -monitoring.

With investments pouring in, manufacturers and service providers have revamped their product portfolio and service offerings. For instance, Sunrise Medical launched its most advanced power wheelchair based on Quickie's premier line of adult power wheelchairs, and is equipped with SpiderTrac 2.0 suspension, advanced SEDEO Ergo seating system supporting complex seating and positioning features, C-Me elevate option, and a host of state-of-the-art electronic features and controls.

Going by the trend, GN Hearing released a rechargeable battery feature for its revolutionary ReSound LiNX 3D hearing aids. These devices are available in North America and also other major markets. It will not be wrong to say that home care is the next big thing in the coming decade.

Propagation of assistive technologies in third world economies

Countries christened as the “developing nations” offer lucrative opportunities for adoption of assistive technologies, thanks to its large patient base and unmet medical needs. It is believed that the population of people suffering from disabilities is very high in low-middle income countries. The WHO has released a report stating that over 21 million people in India suffer from one or other kind of disability, 70 million people need a wheelchair. Such alarming statistics denote the need for monitoring and assistive devices for elderly caregiving.

In the recent turn of events, healthcare systems in these regions have seen a paradigm shift, be it healthcare investments or infrastructure. For instance, in January 2014, the World Economic Forum in its project paper, Health Systems Leapfrogging in Emerging Economies revealed that one-third of the global health expenditure will be focused on improving healthcare services in emerging markets by 2022. It also stated that healthcare expenditure will continue to rise in India and China, which will be directly correlated to the economic growth in these nations. Moreover, increased focus of international companies on cost-effectiveness and scalability to cater to the needs of the rising patient pool will favor the development of new assistive technologies.

Disabled & elderly assistive technologies—catering to the medical needs of Asia-Pacific

One of the major hurdles for assistive technology providers is bridging the demand-supply gap. Reasons like high cost, lack of service outreach, low access to education for disabled people, and increasing incidence of disabilities are attributed to hinder the market growth.

In a recent study, it was found that one out of every six people in the Asia-Pacific region lives with disability, and this situation is likely to aggravate in future. Having said that, there could be a surge in demand for these devices to cater to the unmet needs and increase in awareness among the masses. Additionally, climate-related disasters, ageing population, road mishap-related injuries, chronic health conditions, and poor working conditions have only exacerbated the situation.

The global healthcare industry has witnessed a paradigm shift in the recent years, and this has lured several companies to venture into this space by leveraging product diversification along with innovations to offer cost-effective, long-term health outcomes. Furthermore, interdisciplinary approaches combining biotechnology, nanotechnology, information, and communications technologies, and cognitive sciences have revolutionized the medical devices sector. At present, we are blessed with technologies that offer greater accuracy, advanced control, and low power consumption. For instance, about 20% of people in developing countries, who suffer from hearing loss require hearing aids, which roughly amounts to 72 million potential hearing aid users. Thus, the industry has a lot of juice remaining for the exponential growth of the market players.

China: the emerging torchbearer of assistive technologies

The demographics of China has certainly given it an upper hand in propagating assistive devices backed by innovations pouring in from industry moguls and willingness among citizens to adopt newer technologies. As per China’s 12th five-year plan for the elderly care industry, the people in the age group of 60 years and above will increase by 8.6 million every year. Additionally, the average life span of an individual is projected to increase by two-folds through 2030.

Therefore, the aging population is clearly generating business opportunities for China market. Aging is being associated with deteriorating health and a plethora of diseases and disabilities, hence the demand for daily living aids is expected to rise significantly in the recent years. Chinese manufacturers are focused on cashing in on this opportunity to develop revolutionary technologies in the future.

Nevertheless, assistive technology is touted to be a cost-effective and technologically backed way of helping those in distress by improving their social participation and giving them a fresh lease of life. It has definitely proved to be a boon for family members, caregivers, and indeed, the market participants.

About the Authors

Garima Chandra
Research Analyst
Allied Market Research

Garima holds a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from Pune University, and has done her master’s in Biotech from S.B.S.P.G.I. affiliated to Garhwal University, Dehradun. She has more than 3 years of rich expertise in market research and consulting. She has hands-on expertise in dealing with the intricacies of the healthcare, pharmaceutical and medical devices industry and a deep-seated focus on niche markets and technologies including healthcare, diagnostics, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical based markets.

She has worked as a consultant for global clients in the healthcare industry to identify market growth opportunities through competitive analysis, benchmarking, forecast, and new market penetration.

Soumya Das
Senior Content Editor
Allied Market Research

Soumya holds a master’s degree in Microbiology, and is a seasoned editor with more than five years in various roles of an editorial cycle. Being a tech enthusiast, he loves writing on gadgets, technology, software, and latest inventions. He has a rich experience in developing and managing content like technical documents, press releases, reports, feature articles, website content, promotional materials for online as well offline channels.

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