It's every adult child's worry - your elderly parent insists on independent living, far away from you and their other relatives. Every day you wake up wondering, did they make it through the night alright? Fortunately there are a number of new high tech devices being developed to help the elderly live alone more safely. The market is being financed in part by the National Institute of Aging, as well as private companies such as Intel.
Webcams are an obvious high tech solution, but most elders would resent the loss of privacy they bring with them. Motion detectors are one of the most frequent devices used to promote independent living. By placing detectors at strategic places it is possible to make sure that the elder's normal routine is being observed - that they got out of bed, stopped to take their medicine, and visited the kitchen. Medications can be kept in special boxes for monitoring; if not taken properly alerts and updates can be programmed to be sent to family members. More sophisticated applications are becoming available that can monitor temperature, blood pressure, breathing, and weight.
A model house for senior living at Lakemont's Eskaton Village Rosement incorporates a tremendous number of high tech devices -- and other low tech and green improvements for senior living. This demonstration project is a teaching tool for architects and senior home builders. Low-tech improvements include non-slip surfaces, convenient positioning, wide hallways, one-level floors. Green features include LED lights in many places as well as solar panels and on-demand hot water heaters. Communication panels allow residents to control heating, lighting, and outside visibility in central locations. Others let them order meals, find out what community events are available, play Wii games for physical or mental fitness, and monitor the weather. Here is more on the model house for seniors
Dr. Jeremy Nobel, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, is studying the feasibility of these new devices. He believes that they will become much more common in the next 10 years. Others predict that they will become essential to help accommodate the overwhelming number of baby boomers who will need elder care in the years to come.
Intel is researching even more interesting tech applications for elder care. Some of their ideas include memory bracelets (which send alerts for appointments or medicine), wearable sensors, and carpets with sensors in them. GE Healthcare, Medtronic, and IBM have formed the Continua Health Care Alliance to develop and test high tech devices for seniors. Meanwhile the European Union is aggressively testing such devices to promote independent living. Intel has partnered with Ireland to open the Technology Research for Independent Living Center (Tril), which will invent and test such products. The New York Times reported on "High-Tech Devices" in late May, 2008.
Common Sense and the Human Touch
In reading the breathless reports of all these new high tech devices and the jobs they will perform it is painful to see what isn't discussed - the human side of high tech. We think it is critical to remember that common sense and the human touch should not be discarded in favor of exciting new bells and whistles. For example, a carpet monitor might tell security that a person hasn't got up. But a red light that must be turned off serves the same purpose for most elders, and that involvement and participation makes the senior fell less "monitored" and more in charge. Bottom line: high tech is great - just don't forget that people need to be involved with people.
www.abledata.com from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. It lists assistive technology products in 19 categories with links to manufacturers and suppliers
Doodads, Thingamigjigs, and Gadgets
Assistive Technology - (from Eldercare Locator)
Center for Aging Services Technologies
Eldercare Medical Technology