Assisted Independence

A Call for (R)evolution

Assisted Independence

The Internet of Things (IoT), which consists of smart devices networked with one another, is mainly used in private households for entertainment purposes. Within a few years, the IoT will become omnipresent. In particular ambient assisted living, which is based on assistant systems targeted for senior citizens, will revolutionize lives – especially for the elderly and people in need of care.

For instance, sensors can be installed to detect when residents leave their homes. Then all the lights in the home are automatically turned off, the heating is turned down and the shutters on the windows are rolled down. This form of ambient assisted living (AAL) – which essentially involves smart devices providing intuitive, independent assistance – has virtually become the norm. According to the market research company Gartner, by 2022, there will be around 500 IoT-driven devices present in every typical American household to support residents with their everyday lives. Moreover, the performance – and, therefore, effectiveness – of these devices will increase rapidly. Trend researcher Michael Carl is convinced that, after 2030, systems and devices will be created without a platform that programs and controls them. “The real revolution won’t lie in the new IoT products themselves, some of which we can’t even imagine yet. Instead, it will lie in the way in which they communicate,” says Günter Martin, an IoT expert at TÜV Rheinland. “Devices will introduce themselves to each other and collaborate – just like people do.”

Cameras, sensors and microphones

Around 800,000 people in Germany currently use an emergency call system in their home. This involves a portable remote button that users push to call for assistance in emergencies. Portable systems that automatically detect and report falls or fall sensors installed directly in floors have long surpassed these types of systems – and even these are no longer cutting-edge. For example, the Philips CareSage system analyzes user behavior. “When, for instance, a person in need of care suddenly presses the emergency call button merely to test if it really works, that could be a sign that their state of health has declined. There is statistical evidence to indicate that this change in behavior is, in fact, typically followed by an increase in the likelihood of falling,” says Sören Platten, who works at the Philips Care Competence Center. “Our algorithm indicates the statistical probability with which a fall will occur, and can pass on this information to a doctor or nursing service.” CIBEK’s Paul system works in a similar way; it incorporates elements such as cameras that detect motion patterns in a house or apartment and report deviations from regular patterns. In the future, cameras, microphones and sensors will work in concert with smart devices to ensure that persons in need of nursing care will be able to live at home for longer. They will detect critical situations, measure body temperature, and analyze gestures as well as behavior. Assistants will automatically know what to do. In cases of doubt, they will simply ask questions such as: ‘Should I open the window?’ or ‘Are you OK?,’ or make statements such as ‘You should drink something,’ or ‘You still haven’t taken your blood pressure medication.’ “Technical assistants asking these kinds of questions or making these kinds of recommendations will soon be a part of everyday life,” says Martin. Incorporating voice control, which constitutes the social interaction between users and systems, will allow users to fully overcome their existing reservations about smart technology – complicated system control and operation, currently common concerns, will no longer be an issue. Whether they would like to call family members or a doctor, place an order for groceries, or select which TV channel to watch, users will simply have to voice their desires out loud inside their own home, and technology will take care of the rest.

Subcutaneous assistance

Highly versatile developments are on the horizon. For example, there are already blood sugar level sensors on the market that are implanted subcutaneously. Patients – and, if desired, their doctors – read out their blood sugar level through an app. This saves them the trouble of having to make injections to check their blood sugar. Smart blood sugar level sensors will soon also be able to control pumps and independently adjust insulin levels within the body whenever required. Similarly, additional sensors will be developed that provide implantees with the precise dosage of the required medication at the right time – for example, for chronic pain therapy. Smart medication dispensers in all kinds of different designs are already available to take over this function. There is also a wide range of care-oriented, automated household equipment on the market: from automated height-adjustable kitchens and control systems to beds that can transform into wheelchairs. “There are countless exciting projects out there. But the goal shouldn’t be to equip a home with technology just because it’s possible,” says Platten. “We shouldn’t focus on new possibilities, but rather on solving problems. In other words, we need to see which systems truly help people in need of care, and which ones they accept as well.”

Picture credits: piccaya/istockphoto.com

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