; Your World
THE Y FOUND: Scientists learned
the motion sensors can’t distinguish who triggers them—was
it a spouse or a visitor?—so
they are developing software
to detect changes in activity
to better analyze the data. The
pillbox, they found, could be
a sensitive measure of memory, since those
who scored on the lower end of normal in
cognition tests had a more difficult time remembering to take the pills. And Celia the
robot? Researchers hypothesized she would
be too intrusive, but testers loved the family
contact. As long as care recipients could turn
off the video screen for privacy purposes, social connectivity trumped having a big white
robot in the middle of the room.
The Oregon Center for Aging and Technology (ORCATECH), part of Portland’s Oregon
Health & Science University, is testing technology in more than 150 houses, apartments and
retirement communities in the metro area, as
well as 200 other homes nationwide.
THE Y ASKED: Do changes in mobility and walking speed predict cognitive decline? If so, doctors might be able to step in and mitigate the
problem before there’s a dramatic change. To
find out, motion sensors are installed on participants’ ceilings or appliances. Information
on the speed and frequency of round-the-clock
activity feeds into a computer in the home and
then transmits to researchers. Retired radiologist Lucien Burke, 71, says he has 20 motion
sensors scattered throughout the rooms in his
house. Burke thinks participating in living experiments is important. “Progress is only made
when volunteers come forward,” he says.
Is wiring the lids of a pillbox to learn if users
are taking their medication a better way than
the current method of counting pills? And do
those who take their meds responsibly have
higher cognitive function? Researchers wired
pillboxes with sensors that signal when each
medicine lid is opened.
Is placing a robot in the home intrusive? Does
it reduce isolation? A volunteer participant lives
with Celia, a robot with a video screen, which
the participant can operate with
a remote control. The volun-
teer’s faraway family can direct
Celia through the software in-
stalled on their own computer
and move the robot to different
rooms so relatives can “visit”
with Grandma during the day.
lids of a
ers if a
data to a
HAIL is a year-old partnership between the
Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, the Mayo
Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging, and the Charter House, a continuing care
retirement community that’s connected to the
Mayo Clinic and is the site of the lab.
THE Y ASKED: Is a tablet computer (similar to an
iPad) an effective tool for tracking how those
with chronic diseases, like hypertension and
diabetes, are taking their medications? Does it
work for health coaching?
To find out, researchers installed a tablet
computer with video messaging in participants’
apartments and gave them wireless blood pressure cuffs. When participants take their blood
pressure, their tablets record the information.
If their levels are elevated, a health coach on
a remote computer is able to have a live chat
with the resident via the tablet and make suggestions on how to lower the numbers. After
users tell the tablet computer they’ve taken
their hypertension medication, the tablet displays their blood pressure score along with a
picture of the circulatory system showing how
the medicine affects the body.
HAIL researchers also wanted to know if
patients would be annoyed by having to wear
a Band-Aid-size cardiac sensor on the chest
that transmits real-time information about
heart health to a caregiving team. Would it
THEY FOUND: Residents thought the tablet
wasn’t a problem and enjoyed playing an active role in their health. Watching how their
Healthy Aging and
Independent Living (HAIL) Lab
medicine worked—and seeing what happened
to their body if they didn’t take it—made a difference. Testers also didn’t mind wearing
the cardiac monitor. Charter House resident
Joanne Wayne, 77, tests the tablet and the cardiac monitor and participates in focus groups.
She likes the medical feedback and enjoys being able to provide input into project designs.
Founded in 1999, the MIT AgeLab, the country’s oldest living lab, creates new technological
solutions to help people live better.
THE Y ASKED: Does a monitoring system that has
the same software NASA used to communicate
with astronauts in space help improve medication compliance and good food habits? Does it
also help people feel more connected socially?
To find out, researchers install a videoconferencing and touch-screen computer system in
an older volunteer’s kitchen to monitor eating
and medication habits. The system sends data
instantly to the volunteer’s family’s computer.
The kids—or grandkids—can log on to see if
Mom took her medications and leave messages (“What did you have for breakfast today?
I had oatmeal”), upload family photos or have
a nightly video chat.
THEY FOUND: Videoconferencing in the kitchen helps ensure residents take their medication on time and encourages eating and socializing. It also reinforces researchers’ belief
that older adults will embrace technology if
it provides value. ;
Sally Abrahms writes about boomers and
aging. Her caregiving blog can be found at blog
aarp.org/author/aarpsally/. ;Follow her on Twitter @sallyabrahms and at sallyabrahms.com.