Home care goes high-tech

The Japanese have always been world leaders in creating the very latest and hippest electronic gadgets. Usually, these high-tech tools revolutionize the auto, computer, telecommunication or audio-visual industry. The latest gizmo, however, may change the way we care for the elderly, especially those who live on their own.

Meet ASIMO, a four-foot high, two-legged, humanoid robot developed by engineers at Honda. Resembling a small astronaut, ASIMO (an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) made its North American debut this past January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It wowed spectators by walking around stage, shaking hands with demonstrators, recognizing and responding to voice and hand commands and, being Vegas, even busting a few dance moves.Honda has high hopes for its robot, projecting that down the road it will become a mechanized caregiver and companion for housebound elderly or disabled. Once the glitches are ironed out (it just learned to walk up and downstairs without falling flat on its robot face), the car company believes ASIMO will one day be capable of performing numerous personal and health-care tasks for the elderly, such as monitoring their safety, helping them in and out of beds or wheelchairs, monitoring vital signs – perhaps even tucking them into bed at night.Technological advances like ASIMO could solve many of tomorrow’s caregiving problems.

In the next 20 years, Canada is going to see the number of over-65s more than double, reaching almost 10 million by 2025. Many of these folks are going to be relatively healthy and independent – able to live at home with only minimal home-care assistance.But will our home-care system be able to provide care for even their minor needs?


Judging by the current system’s inability to cope with its presentcaseload, how will it possibly function when the number of seniors doubles?That’s why it’s so important that the innovations coming from thetechnology revolution are applied to the societal issues arising from the upsurge in longevity.

Spurred on by advances in the Internet, artificial intelligence and robotic technology, many high-tech products are being developed that could one day find their way into seniors’ homes. Not only will they allow seniors to remain out of nursing homes but they will also allow medical professionals and family members to look after their needs from a distance.The Washington-based organization called Center for Aging Services and Technologies (CAST) is trying to spur this revolution, bringing together technology companies and researchers to find ways in which scientific advancements can be applied to home care, maximizing the independence of the elderly as well as enhancing their quality of care – not to mention easing the worries of family and friends.

“As our senior population doubles over the next two decades, we facea daunting mission: to increase the quality of care for a record number of seniors while somehow reducing the nation’s health-care bill before the system implodes,” says Eric Dishman, CAST chairman.

Here are some high-tech products that might one day allow seniors to age gracefully at home. Some are currently available while others are in the design state.


This product was developed for caregivers and patients struggling through the early days of providing care for a loved one. At this stage, solid caregiving information is important, but where does one get it? LifeLedger is an interactive website that contains all the relevant data, information and resources a new caregiver may need all in one central location. It also stores information such as the patient’s physical condition, medications, contact information, names of family doctor and caregivers. Go to http://agingwiselypro.lifeledger.com.


Those with mobility issues often have trouble controlling all the on-off switches in their environment. REACH allows patients to control a number of tasks from a central touch screen. Patients can simply touch a button on the screen to control lights, open and shut doors and blinds, make telephone calls, turn on and off television or stereo, control a bed – even open the door to visitors.Go to http://www.breakboundaries.com.


This dispenser is designed for those with complex drug regimens or who haveproblems remembering to take their medication. The pharmacist or caregiver loads the dispenser with the patient’s medication and then sets the alarm, which beeps when it’s time to take a pill. The patient slides open the medication door, removes the dosage and closes the door. When it closes, the alarm shuts off, and the tray rotates to the next dose. Go to http://www.safehomeproducts.com


The CareCompanion attempts to provide some nursing tasks – without thenurse. A touch screen component, which can sit on a night table, prompts a patient to take medication. It also asks health-related questions, answered by pressing buttons on the screen. Patients can enter their blood pressure, heart rate or blood sugar levels. All of this information is sent by telephone line to a central server. If the patient’s blood pressure is too high or they forget totake medication, the server will immediately notify a caregiver who can thenreact accordingly. Go to http://www.amdtelehealth.com.


This shirt can be used by for patients with heart or breathing difficulties.Machine-washable, the shirt has built-in sensors, which collect pulmonary, cardiac, posture and activity signals while the person goes about his or her daily activities.Devices that measure blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, EEG, and body temperature can be integrated with the shirt’s sensors. The data is stored in an electronic diary, which can be sent or downloaded to a physician’s or caregiver’s computer. Go to http://www.vivometrics.com/site/press_pr20061114.html.



Currently in the design stage, its creators hope this Canadian-designed wheelchair will allow elderly disabled patients to get about without assistance. Using artificial intelligence and infrared sensors, the intelligent wheelchair will be able to navigate dwelling spaces without bumping into objects and be able to squeeze through narrow hallways and doorways. The wheelchair will gradually “know” all the locations in the home and be able to go directly there when commanded by the user. Go to http://www.aai.ca/robots/tao_7.html.


This early warning tool will give some peace of mind to children with an agingloved one living on their own. Through a series of wireless sensors, QuietCaremonitors the person’s activities throughout the course of the day. Ittracks habits such as wake-up time, bathroom usage, meal preparation and medication usage. The sensors can determine if the patient does not get out of bed at a specified time, if the house is too hot or cold, if the person does not exit the bathroom within a specified time or if they prepared a meal that day. When the system senses something amiss, it alerts the caregiver by text, e-mail, pager or telephone message, suggesting the caregiver pay a visit. Go to http://www.quietcare.com.


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