If you read my blog much you will know that I talk a lot about the Internet of Things, and that I often mention how the IoT is going to transform medicine. The reason for this is personal, not just to me, but to the whole generation of baby boomers. We are now 60ish and, while that is not yet old, we all can look into the future in a decade or two and see ourselves as old.
I think the biggest fear that a lot of us have is losing control of our lives and ending up in an institution. Many institutions are dehumanizing and even the best run ones are a far cry from staying in your own home. And so, to me, the part if the IoT that probably interests me the most is the technologies that are going to let people stay in their homes as long as possible. I don’t know about you, but if I had one wish to make with a genie it would be to live to a ripe old age with good health and then die in my own bed.
While the IoT is a relatively new thing, there has already been a lot of thought and research put into using technology to take care of the elderly. Let’s take a look at where some of this early research is headed.
Smart Motion Detectors. One brilliant idea is to install smart motion detectors around the home. Motion detectors can tell a lot about a person without being as intrusive as surveillance cameras. Motion detectors coupled with good software can learn an elderly person’s habits and can then send out an alert or an alarm if something seems amiss. This system ought to be able to tell if somebody has fallen or if they are unconscious and not moving and alert a caregiver if they won’t respond. At first this might create some false alarms when somebody is napping hard, but over time the system will get to know the patient and will know the difference between napping and a real trouble.
This does raise the issue of privacy. Most of the technologies on the horizon are going to compromise some privacy. It’s going to be up to each person to determine how much privacy they will trade for getting to stay in their own home, and I think for most people they will choose the monitoring over the alternative.
Health Monitors. I wrote recently about the Qualcomm Foundations$10 million XPrize to create a tricorder like the one in Star Trek. There are going to be small unobtrusive devices that can keep tabs on temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar and a number of other statistics that can let the patient be monitored for general health. This kind of monitoring is going to alert the health system that there is a problem before the patient even realizes it. This is taking preventative care to the next level.
Smart House. There are a lot of devises that can be incorporated into the smart house that can help the elderly. Probably the most useful will be the ability to talk to your house and tell it what you need. This means that everything from a call to 911 to making a room warmer are just a voice command away. But there are many other things a smart house can do. It can do things like remind a person when it’s time to take medication. It can remind the elderly to turn off the stove or to lock doors.
Robots. And finally, let’s not forget robots. There should be robots in a few years that can do a lot of the mundane tasks around the house like cleaning, taking out the trash, watering the plants, etc. that can be a real benefit to the elderly person living alone. And if it can play a mean hand of gin rummy, all the better!