TMC.net (technology Marketing Corp).
Saturday, May 13, 2006.
(Kiplinger's Retirement Report Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)pages 12-13.
RI-MAN ISN'T your average caregiver. The pale-green, 220-pound robot is a mass of wiring, metal and computer chips. It was created in Japan as an eventual high-tech alternative to costly home-health services and nursing-home care.Although you can't order your own RI-MAN or other home-care robot yet, you can buy many other assistive-technology devices that enable older adults with various ailments to continue to live in their own homes. Such devices include home sensors that monitor a person's day-to-day activities and special goggles that help the visually impaired to see. These products are part of tech companies' response to the new demographics: a rising number of seniors, families scattered around the globe and grown children with full-time careers who care for elderly parents. Here are some examples of what's available now.
Home monitoring has come a long way since Life Alert (www.lifealert.com), an emergency pendant worn around a senior's neck that was best known for its "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" TV commercials. A senior presses a button on the device to contact emergency services. But what if you're too weak to press the button, or you lose consciousness? The latest monitoring systems are designed to address those issues.QuietCare, from Living Independently, for example, is a service that monitors wireless sensors placed in the most frequently used areas of the home, including the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and medicine cabinet. QuietCare spends several days creating an "electronic map" of a person's behavior. "We learn when they wake up, how frequently they use the bathroom, when they eat, their general activities of daily living," says Daniel Gold, chief operating officer of Living Independently Group, based in New York City.Once the software determines a person's daily routine, it checks for anomalies in behavior, such as if someone fails to get out of bed in the morning. It also detects nonemergencies that may require medical attention. For example, if a client ordinarily uses the bathroom once a night, but suddenly starts using the bathroom five times a night, that could be a sign of a urinary tract infection or an adverse reaction to medication, Gold says. The QuietCare station in the home collects information from the sensors and posts it daily to a Web site for relatives and the client's doctor to review.The hardware and installation cost $199, and the monitoring service is $83 to $93 a month. (Visit the company's Web site at www.quietcaresystems.com or call 1-866-216-4600.)Lusora Limited plans to sell a monitoring service by the end of this year. Like QuietCare, Lusora's service will use wireless home sensors, but the company will also provide a panic-button pendant for an individual to wear around the neck. The pendant will include a detector that will automatically notify emergency services if its wearer falls. Dan Bauer, president of Lusora, says the monitoring service will likely cost $40 to $50 per month. (Visit Lusora's Web site at www.lusora.com or call 1-415-738-2149.)
HELP FOR THE VISION-IMPAIRED
New technologies can help the elderly cope with vision loss. A pair of goggles named Jordy, for Joint Optic Reflective Display, helps people with macular degeneration, glaucoma and other chronic eye ailments. Jordy goggles magnify images, making them appear up to 30 times larger, depending on the zoom adjustment. The wearer sees the world reproduced on one-inch television screens embedded in the goggles.Charlotte Soloway, 71, of East Greenwich, R.I., who has been legally blind since 1998, uses the goggles for reading, viewing photos and watching TV. Soon after she bought her Jordy three years ago, she took it to a Little League game to watch her grandson play. "That was the first time I could see him bat the ball," she says. "I could zoom in up close."The device can be cumbersome, however, particularly when powered by its optional handheld battery pack. The goggles are not recommended for walking or driving because they reduce the user's field of vision. They cost $2,795 ($3,095 with a desktop stand, which is required for reading). The company plans to create a smaller and lighter version. "The dream is to make something the size of a regular pair of glasses," says Hal Reisiger, president of Enhanced Vision, headquartered in Huntington Beach, Cal. (To order a Jordy, visit the company's Web site at www.enhancedvision.com or call 1-888-811-3161.)
THE NEW BRAILLE
Seniors who lose their sight often must learn to read a tactile alphabet. Until recently, Braille was the only game in town. But because tactile acuity declines with age, seniors often have a difficult time discerning the small dots and spaces. But a new alternative, the Elia Alphabet, is easier to learn than Braille, particularly for those who lose their sight later in life, says Andrew Chepatis, president of New York-based Elia Life Technology. Many characters in the Elia Alphabet are similar to those in the Roman alphabet--the letter O is unchanged, for example.Elia Life Technology (www.elialife.com) sells a $25 Home Labeling Kit, which includes a set of Elia Alphabet labels for common household items. Later this year, the company expects to sell a $75 kit for creating custom labels. Future plans call for a device that could download an electronic book and reproduce the text on a tactile screen, Chepatis says.
Technology can help reduce visits to medical clinics and hospitals. The Viterion 100 TeleHealth Monitor (www.viterion.com) is a small device, about the size of an answering machine, that relays a patient's vital-sign measurements via telephone line to a nurse or doctor. Patients measure their own blood pressure, weight, temperature and other vital signs using monitors that are attached to the machine. A display on the Viterion screen guides patients through the self-checkup. The physician usually places the order and requests installation.For patients, Viterion reduces trips to the doctor or in-home nurse visits. Like a medical professional, the machine asks health-related questions, such as "Did you sleep well?" and "Are you tired today?"Honeywell International, which sells the Genesis vital-signs monitors for home use, plans to launch a new model with a video link-up and camera. Nurses will be able to check, for instance, whether a wound is healing properly.
Such high-tech gadgetry can help the elderly stay mentally and physically fit. A study by the University at Buffalo's Center for Assistive Technology examined two groups of frail seniors who lived alone. The homes of seniors in one group were outfitted with lighting, motion and security sensors. These seniors were also given computers with Internet access. In the other group, no changes were made to the seniors' homes. Dr. Machiko Tomita, a clinical associate professor at the university, says the study showed that seniors in the high-tech homes "maintained physical and cognitive functions," while the other group "showed significant declines in both."On the drawing board are other "smart home" gadgets aimed at helping seniors avoid or postpone institutional care. One device would monitor the pace at which someone walks; a change in gait could alert the family to problems. Researchers are also developing sensors that could determine whether someone has neglected to take medicine or eat.But will robots ever be able to remind a senior to take medication or to detect changes in behavior? Japan's RI-MAN is already capable of seeing, hearing and smelling, as well as carrying a 26-pound doll, but it's far from being ready for real life. (To watch a video demonstration, go to www.bmc.riken.jp/~RI-MAN/index_us.html.)"Until we can really deal with the dexterity issues of robots being able to walk up steps and handle objects, we're still many years away," says Russell Bodoff, executive director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies, a coalition of 400 companies.As more technology moves into the home, some critics are haunted by the Orwellian implications of Big Brother monitoring our every movement. To this, Lusora's Bauer says: "What's a bigger loss of privacy than moving into a nursing home?"
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