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New cross border projects to improve health outcomes for older people in rural locations

Ulster University has been awarded two grants by the Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) 2014-2020 Programme worth €3.7 million in total. Led by Ulster University, both projects will be delivered by a team of international partners and will run for three years, with a number of partner locations in the Republic.

 Social exclusion and loneliness are increasingly prevalent in rural and remote regions of Europe and there is growing concern about the impact on mental health, independent living and patient rehabilitation after illness.

 The first project – Platforms for Ageing Community Engagement – Exchange and Enterprise (PLACE-EE) – will seek to develop low cost, transnational solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of older isolated people in remote rural areas through innovative approaches to social inclusion.

 This will include helping older citizens to understand and exploit digital technology for their health and social wellbeing and creating a range of digital solutions to the challenges identified by older people.

 The second project – Smart sENsor Devices fOr rehabilitation and Connected health  (SENDoc) – will assess the technical, clinical and social acceptability of early stage and market-ready wearable technologies and their impact on patients, on health and care delivery and on rural communities.

 While SENdoc is attempting to bring new technology to older people, PLACE-EE is intending to bring older people to the technology.

 Prof Gerry Leavey, Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, will lead PLACE-EE. Speaking about the project he said: “With social exclusion and loneliness increasingly prevalent in rural and remote regions of Europe, there are damaging consequences for physical and mental health. This project will develop and implement locally derived, sustainable solutions to address the health and social needs of ageing and isolated rural populations.

 “In doing so, it will identify and connect local, cultural knowledge and other resources with innovative ICT approaches that enable social inclusion, and timely, efficient advice, support and care. We want to foster intergenerational skills exchange between older and younger citizens and empower older people through creative and cultural activities.”

 Dr Joan Condell, senior lecturer in the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems in the Department of Computing and Engineering at Ulster University, will lead SENDoc.

She said: “SENDoc will focus on changing existing rehabilitation programmes by introducing the use of wearable sensor systems in ageing communities in northern remote areas.

 “These sensors can measure mobility, strength, balance, and also wellbeing, exercise, and safety, and have the potential to support independent living. SENDoc will transfer research and development in wearable systems, put in place community networks and create platforms where data and experiences can be shared and supported.

 “What is particularly exciting about both projects is that the partnerships will bring together technicians, clinicians, associated expert and service providers from around the world to engage with patients, citizens and communities to address these challenges.”  

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