From a healthy start to a vital old age

A healthy life for everyone: that is the mission of the Health Innovation Centre of Expertise at The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS). Social-technological innovations are intended to foster the positive health of vulnerable groups. ‘We want everyone to be able to fully participate in our society.’

‘The promotion of positive health contributes to the reduction of rising healthcare costs caused by an ageing population’, argues leading professor Sanne de Vries. ‘In addition, people who are healthier participate more actively in daily life, the work process, but also in their neighbourhoods and associations.’ 

Diversity 

The Centre of Expertise focuses on the health of vulnerable groups such as young people, seniors and people from a lower socio-economic class, specifically in the metropolitan region of Rotterdam-The Hague. Programme coordinator of the Centre of Expertise, Bregje Thomassen, explains: ‘The diversity of people plays an important role in this region. It’s a very densely populated area with large differences in income, cultural background and health. The pressure on the living environment and also on health care is very high.’ 

Innovations 

The Centre of Expertise focuses on three social objectives: healthier living, longer independent living at home, and faster recovery after a healthcare treatment. De Vries adds, ‘There will be less and less space in nursing homes in the coming decades. There is also a growing shortage of care professionals. We are researching how social-technological innovations can help you adopt a healthy lifestyle from an early age so you are able to grow old with vitality, even if participation is no longer self-evident or simple.’ 

E-health 

More e-health solutions are increasingly becoming available. In the Fast@HOME project, for example, the Centre of Expertise researched how e-health can be used in the 'Home' rehabilitation process. Two research groups (Rehabilitation and Information Technology in Society) have brought together various e-health solutions on a protected digital platform. ‘The data from the apps which the rehabilitation patients use have been made visible to, among others, the physical therapist. That information helps to speed up recovery after a healthcare treatment.’ 

Lifestyle coaches 

Another research project focused on improving the lifestyle of senior secondary vocational education and training (MBO) students. De Vries: ‘Many MBO students lead an unhealthy lifestyle — they exercise too little and eat unhealthy food. Unfortunately, many don't find their lifestyle to be a problem.’ To encourage this group to change their behaviour, the students helped design the intervention and older MBO students were used as lifestyle coaches. ‘They organised fitness days and other sports and exercise activities, created challenges and shared healthy recipes.’ 

Living labs 

According to the leading professor, it's important to involve everyone and to not impose top-down changes. The meeting between researcher, citizen, professional and also the student often takes place in so-called living labs. Citizens feel empowered here, because they are heard and something is actually done with their input. ‘People want to be in control of their own lives and own the solution. Adoption and implementation work better when citizens and professionals really participate in the innovation process. We need to hear their voice to gain insight into the problem and their world, so we can make the solution more appropriate and therefore more effective.’ 

At the source 

Now that the Centre of Expertise has acquired form and content, the plans for the coming years are ready. ‘We want to further join forces with strategic partners in the region and link practice-based research even more closely to education, students and professional practice. We do this by writing grant applications together, participating in curriculum renewal and actively involving citizens, healthcare professionals and, of course, students in our research. That is the beauty of the work at THUAS. We work together with future professionals in a dynamic environment. You are working right at the source, with your eye on the future, to make necessary changes in society.’