Conceptualize aging

We are confronting the “silver tsunami” of an ageing community that within a few years will see for the first time, more people over the age of 65 living on this planet than those under 5 years of age. Apart from the increased burden of chronic diseases that accompanies old age, the biggest effect of an increasingly ageing population will be felt in the numbers of people with dementia, and in particular Alzheimer’s Disease. In Europe, around 7% of the population over 65 have dementia. This rises dramatically with age and nearly 50% of women and 30% of men over the age of 90 will endure from this state.


The Internet of Things

For many of us, there is the desire to “age in place”, that is to remain in our homes and stay as agile and self - supporting for as long as possible. One probability of achieving this is to use technological guidance, and in particular use connected smart devices that are collectively called the “Internet of Things” that are rapidly becoming a reality in the home.

The Internet of Things can interact with each other and with software running in the cloud. These devices can act as sensors, monitoring what is happening in the environment and, in particular, with elderly people themselves. They can also process information and take responses, such as controlling heating and air conditioning, locking doors and windows and reminding people to take medications or encourage them to be active, or simply go for a walk. Data collected through the Internet of Things in the home can be used to provide an overall evaluation of “examination of daily living”. These observations form a structure of everyday life from which any variations can create activates of that change to alert those living in the home, their family or their healthcare.

The challenges to letting the Internet of Things do the caring

Despite all of the probabilities of these devices assisting the elderly to stay independent and active, there are some significant hindrances that need to be overcome before their full potential becomes a reality. The first is acceptance by the elderly themselves. They may see remote observing devices as an obtrusion on their privacy. They may also see any outward signs of using this technology as a public symbol of their age and infirmity and so avoid their use for that reason. They may be worried about not being able to use the technology properly, in particular activating false alarms. Finally, the devices may not be considered affordable, or at least, too much of a luxury to spend money on.

Dressing up the Internet of Things

Some of these hurdles can be fixed by the design of the devices themselves. A US company, Live!y has developed a smartwatch, not differing from Apple or Samsung, that provides alerts and reminders and also can be used to summon help and communicate with a observing service. It also calibrates activity by counting steps, and usefully, tells the time. The watch acts in concert with a range of sensors that monitor medication use, access of the fridge and movement in different circumstances. The watch can also detect falls and automatically call for aid .

Observing the state of their health

Observing the state of their health

The smart devices can sense, make decisions locally, and act on that information. Ultimately, if this is to be of any use, the directions emanating from these devices need to be followed by those that the technologies are caring for. This is still the most demanding feature of the whole process. Reminding someone that they have failed to take their medication may be of no use if that person has decided simply that they don’t want to take it. What the health profession can do about the elderly not taking medications as they are intended is a still a major challenge and having reminders is not the complete solution.

Because a solution does not work for everyone is not a reason for not adopting it for those that it will help. Before we see extensive adoption of the Internet of Things in the home however, we will need to see cheaper, more attractive, affordable, and useful devices that combine with smartphones and computers and the apps that are running on them.