Technology for aging in place has been a popular area for research in recent years, particularly in the areas of assistive and monitoring technology. A recent article in Gerontology describes an international research project designed to provide in-home technology to help individuals with mild to moderate cognitive decline live safely in their own homes.
Individuals with mild and moderate cognitive impairment can struggle to plan and organize their daily tasks. Distractions and memory problems, in particular, can interfere with these necessary activities. The main focus of the research project so far has been to help individuals with memory decline to complete their activities of daily living and other necessary activities, such as taking medications and staying socially connected. To manage this, the researchers designed a system to monitor the activity of individuals in their home and to, when needed, provide prompts and reminders to in-home users or, if necessary, remote caregivers or emergency services.
The system uses a variety of in-home sensors to track the user’s activity, and communicates alerts and prompts through the television, speakers set up around the house, or, if alerting someone outside the home, the telephone. Rather than providing the individuals with a home computer, the researchers designed the system to be run through the user’s TV set. The user can get information, and interact with the system using a handheld Wii™ remote. The user can use the remote to call up a relative, play music, or set a schedule.
The prompting and alerting system is designed to keep the system aware of the user’s activity and surrounding context. This is done using a variety of sensors that can track where the user is in the home, whether he or she is lying in bed, or whether he or she has left the home. For example, contact sensors attached to the telephone can inform the system when the user is on a call. This way, if there is a scheduled activity that occurs when the user in on the phone with a friend, the system can wait until the phone call ends to remind the user, or to “interrupt” the phone call, via audio speakers in the room where the user is on the phone.
The review article focuses on just on the design of the system and some pilot interactions with 35 users with cognitive impairments in a laboratory setting. Future studies will assess whether such technology is effective and useful in a real-world setting.