By Scott Simone, Contributor
We’ve all seen the infomercials: An elderly person, sporting a silver wristlet, has fallen on the floor and can’t get up.
Though many seniors are a button-push away from help, personal emergency response systems often go unused. In fact, in 83 percent of falls, wearers never activated the help system and remained on the floor for more than five minutes.
By 2060, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to increase from 46 million (as of 2016) to more than 98 million.
Here are three technologies that may change that.
1. Making Motion Smarter
By 2060, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to increase from 46 million (as of 2016) to more than 98 million. And as more people live longer, the senior care industry is poised to be a prime sector for tech companies—like CarePredict—to innovate.
With Tempo, a sophisticated wrist device, CarePredict pairs powerful artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning with lightweight sensors that can track motion. By analyzing those motions with AI algorithms, Tempo can derive insights into a wearer’s normal activity patterns—eating, drinking, bathing, grooming, tooth-brushing, and more—and compile the data into user-friendly, digestible reports available online to wearers.
Should an emergency occur—like when a wearer enters a restricted area (such as staircases in homes or the perimeter of an elder care facility’s campus) or spends too much time in the bathroom—an alert is immediately sent to care staff and/or family members. Meanwhile, less immediately threatening trends, such as infrequent eating, are highlighted on a daily health and wellness report.
Satish Movva, founder of CarePredict, believes that tech like Tempo will allow staff at senior living communities—as well as family members—to better identify patients’ healthcare needs and deliver proactive, superior care. “With over 600 million people worldwide over the age of 65 years and a rapidly diminishing caregiving population,” he said in an interview, “technology like ours is efficiently bridging the gap and ensuring that our loved ones get the constant, quality care they need and deserve.”
2. Help Within Ear Shot
A hearing technology company called Starkey is taking measures to help detect and quickly reach seniors who have fallen. The company’s Livio AI hearing aid uses inertial sensors—which are able to pick up movement and gestures—to automatically detect falls.
“We have two fall detection sensors for the right side and the left side, whereas most fall detection systems have only one,” the company’s CTO Achin Bhowmik told Hearing Review. “[Through] the way the two sensors are spaced apart and the way in which you hold your head, we can get better and more accurate results than neck-worn sensors designed to detect falls.”
Since the hearing aids pair up to smartphones through an app, they’ll also send a warning notification via text message to as many as three emergency contacts, allowing each emergency contact to see on a map where the wearer has fallen. In turn, this will ensure wearers receive the help they need faster.
3. Robots as Caretakers
Earlier this year, scientists at Washington State University developed a robot that could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in their own homes.
The Robot Activity Support System (RAS) uses IoT sensors embedded in a home to determine where its residents are, what they’re doing, and when they need assistance with daily activities.
The robot can make its way through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provide video instructions on how to complete simple tasks, and even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.
“RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected,” Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, told WSU Insider.
RAS researchers recently published a study in the journal Cognitive Systems Research in which participants were asked to rate the robot’s performance after it helped them perform a specific task, like finding their dog’s leash. The majority gave favorable ratings, citing the robot’s tablet interface as intuitive and easy to use, and the videos particularly useful.
Whether through motion sensors, smart hearing aids, or robotic caretakers, AI-powered tools are changing how seniors will experience aging. And with an estimated worth of $5.5 billion by 2022 in the United States alone, the eldercare AI market is slated to become an industry-shifting pillar of tomorrow’s healthcare.