Recent IT developments for elderly home
Alongside the growing ageing population, the governments around the globe have been investing in IT to provide smart home for the elderly. The major reason behind perhaps is to alleviate the medical and healthcare burden arising from the increasing average life expectancy.
The design priority of smart home for the elderly, especially for those who live alone, should be in the following order: safety > health > general wellbeing.
Smart elderly home usually comes with the concept of Internet-of-Things (IoT). IoT is the network of physical devices, e.g. electrical appliances, sensors and personal computers, embedded with software and electronics. Such a network enables integration and automation with speedy connectivity and exchange of data among the devices. With the advancement of internet and high-speed cellular network technologies, IoT is also connected to outside systems, e.g. hospital or healthcare systems, for performing safety and health monitoring and emergency purpose.
The networks that enable smart elderly home are normally
- Personal Area Network (PAN) or Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) for general sensors
- Wireless Body Area Network (WBAN) or Body Sensor Network (BSN) for biomedical sensors
Upon completion of analyzing data collected on the environment, as well as users’ activity and physiological conditions, the central unit of a system responds by activating relevant appliances, e.g. air-conditioning, and/or sending signals to the caregivers in healthcare centres or hospitals via the internet or mobile network.
One example of safety measures is the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System in the Singapore’s public housing, developed by Astralink Technology, a Singaporean company with innovative products featuring voice, data and video. The system is installed in the one-room rental apartments for senior citizens. It makes use of motion sensors and cameras to monitor the living patterns of the elderly, and alert the caregivers and family members via an app if there is any anomalies, based on the cloud analytics with the elderly profiles.
Picture: Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System.
Apart from Astralink Technology, Sensor City is another company deploying infrared sensors to monitor the safety of the aged by anonymously tracking their movements.
Health and general wellbeing
Home automation is one of the main features in elderly home to enhance the residents’ health and general comfort and convenience. Common IT facilities cover
- security system
- door locks
- video door phone system, e.g. Nest Hello
- lighting control
- air-conditioning control
- curtain control
- automated furniture (beds, chairs, dining table and wardrobe, etc.) for both health monitoring and wellbeing
- fridge, e.g. Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
Meanwhile, machine-speaking personal assistants, e.g. Google Home and Amazon Echo, are being adopted to integrate individual systems and gadgets.
Furthermore, short range communication technology is deployed. For instance, old people including those who are susceptible to losing their ways are monitored through wearable electronics using radio frequency identification (RFID). The use of RFID can also be extended to recording use of community facilities, assisting the elderly to read out texts, and conducting health training through interactive media.
For longer distance monitoring, Global Positioning System (GPS) tagging system is used. For example, Mindme Locate uses satellites to find out the users’ location accurately.
- Smart carpet – it is a carpet with pressure points sensor underneath to detect the presence of people. For the elderly, in case they fell down or behaving abnormally, alerts will be sent to the monitoring centre who can come their rescue.
Picture: At Manchester University, scientists have developed a “magic carpet”, designed to detect and even predict, when old people fall at home.
- Smart bed mattress – the bed mattress, designed by EarlySense, can return signals with data on mechanical vibrations of the heart cardio ballistic effect, and respiratory and patient motion to the caregivers.
Picture: Earlysense in Waltham, Massachusetts.
- Smart Mirror – a prominent example is Wize Mirror which gives the user a check-up each time when he/she stands in front of the mirror. It has built in 3D-scanners, multispectral cameras and gas sensоrs which help tо identify early signs оf seriоus illnesses. The analysis оf the human face (facial expressiоns, skin tоne and fatty tissue cоntent) also helps tо indicate the initial diagnоsis.
Picture: Smart mirror – Wize Mirror.
- Smart contact lens – a technology developed by Goolge X in partnership with Novartis, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical giant. The lens contains a tiny and ultra slim microchip that is embedded in one of its thin concave sides. It aims to offer an easier and more comprehensive way of monitoring the glucose levels of diabetics.
Picture: Google’s smart contact lens.
- Smart earring – The EAR-O-SMART connects to smartphones and monitor the user’s your heart rate, calories, and activity level.
Picture: EAR-O-SMART smart earring.