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Apple, IBM partner to help Japan's elderly survive on their own

iPad apps developed for medical use are being repurposed to provide support for the nation's elderly population.

ipad family

Japan has a problem. In a nation of 120 million people and falling, 33 million people, one-quarter of its total population, are over 65. Many of these elderly are disconnected from family or just want to maintain their independence, but Japan doesn't have anywhere near enough healthcare workers to tend to these ageing people, and given its xenophobia, the government isn't keen on letting in foreign workers to fill the gaps.

The solution? An iPad with some IBM apps. Company CEOs Tim Cook and Virginia Rometty met in New York City along with the CEO of Japan Post Group to announce the initiative to help Japan's seniors better deal with everyday issues and connect with healthcare providers.

Japan Post is pretty much taking the lead on this project. It is a government-owned holding company that handles Japan's postal system plus offers banking and insurance services. The iPads will supplement Japan Post's Watch Over service. For a monthly fee, the service has postal employees check on elderly residents and relay information on their condition to family members.

Japan Post's 400,000 employees will receive training from IBM on how to use the devices and the apps before they in turn distribute the iPads to the elderly.

The project is built on the alliance Apple and IBM struck last year. In April, the pair rolled out a set of apps meant for healthcare workers, which will apparently be modified for the Japanese market. Testing of the iPads will begin in the second half of the year. After a pilot stage, Japan Post Group will expand the service in stages to cover about four million to five million seniors in Japan by 2020.

"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," Taizo Nishimuro, CEO of Japan Post Group, said in a statement.

The iPads for the seniors will include customized apps along with the standard iPad features. The programs will remind the users to take their medications, offer diet and exercise information, and connect them to services like grocery delivery. 

Will a program like this roll out in the U.S.? It's doubtful because it's so reliant on the tight connection between government agencies and the people of Japan. Door-to-door services that are commonplace in Japan are rare in the U.S. or would require fees people wouldn't want to pay. And I can just imagine the reaction of many Americans at the thought of their postal delivery person checking in on elderly people on their routes who live alone. So this may be a Japan-only phenomenon.

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