Japan's elders to get iPads to support healthcare

Millions of senior citizens in Japan will get iPads to remind them when to take medicine or advise them where to find community support services, under a new programme.

The programme would open with a trial, Japanese logistics group Japan Post announced, that would see IBM and Apple give 1,000 seniors iPads free-of-charge for six months starting from October.

Apple said if successful, the distribution could be stepped up to 5 million by 2020.

Japan Post's current service offers a $1,000 yen ($8) monthly service, named "Watch Over", whereby postal workers checked in on elderly customers and reported back to relatives about their well-being.

"We will start a trial service with some 1,000 iPads custom-made for the elderly, using our existing Watch Over service," a Japan Post spokesman told AFP yesterday.

It was not clear if users would later need to pay for the devices.

Apple described the service as "a first-of-its kind initiative aimed at improving the quality of life for millions of Japanese senior citizens", on Thursday.

"(The programme) will deliver iPads with IBM-developed apps and analytics to connect millions of seniors with services, healthcare, community and their families," the US tech giant said in a statement.

Among the types of services the new initiative would offer, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained that Apple apps would be integrated every step of the way and Apple's digital personal assistant, Siri would be able to read emails to people with visual disabilities.

The companies hoped the technology would help senior citizens take care and attend to their health issues with a little technological assistance.

According to a representative from IBM, the cost of the service would be ''nominal'', and there was also an opportunity for insurers or providers to pick up the tab.

Cook who attended the event to announce the new project along, with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, said it was ''no surprise in a culture that respects the elderly, and the wisdom of the elderly, that this particular initiative will begin in Japan.''

Caring for over 33 million seniors represented a large portion of the country's overall health care spending. The population of seniors is expected to grow to 40 per cent of the country's population, over the next 40 years.

According to Japan Post, home care patients would be able to determine how much health data they shared, and whether they wanted it anonymised.