Aging in Place With ElliQ and Other Innovations

Scientists and researchers are working overtime to help older people age in place. And that’s a good thing—most of us do want to stay at home as long as we can.

One company pursuing this is K4Connect, a tech firm that serves older adults with disabilities. The CEO, Scott Moody has a dream, and it has a good chance of coming true.

Moody thinks in broad strokes. He believes that in five years home automation for older adults, still very complex, will connect us to the “Internet of Things” (IoT), allowing us to seamlessly access apps that will help us age in place. He envisions:

“In a perfect IoT system, an older person could stand up in the middle of the night and a light would automatically turn on and potentially prevent a fall. Or if the person missed taking a medication, an alert would come over his or her in-house stereo system.”

Doorbells, door locks, motion sensors, streaming music, monitors for rising blood pressure and pill reminders, will be automated, he proposes. Videos and photos, controlled by the users’ smartphone or laptop, could be sent periodically to off site caregivers.

Moody and others like him are a new kind of researcher. They don’t buy into the statistics that put millions of older people helplessly dependent in old age homes. Instead, they see a different world of people living in their own homes, long after anyone thought it possible. And the good news—the technological breakthroughs for this have already been achieved, ready to be put in place as soon as systems are perfected.

We older people are observing these developments with a wary, watchful eye. We are a vibrant, independent group. We range from the Silent Generation, aged 72 to 92, to the Baby Boomers, now entering our 70s.

We are aware that our numbers are surging—33 million of Americans among us turned 70 this year, and by 2030, the time our entire generation reaches retirement age, there will be almost 55 million of us. That puts us at 15% of the population, with a proportion needing help as we age.

We are also aware that researchers predict a caregiver shortage—this report is typical of the warnings we see:

“Older generations now have lots of Boomers to care for them. But with lower rates of marriage and fewer children, the Baby Boom generation and Gen X will have smaller pools of caregivers.”

We know that an entire industry of technological experts are concerned with our welfare, and worry that we could ‘sink’ the economies of some countries.

But we won’t do that, you know—it’s not going to happen. We cover a wide spectrum of economic standing and physical and mental health, and we don’t think about ourselves in terms of our disabilities. Those are represented as well, but they do not define us, as Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, says in a recent essay for Next Avenue:

“But while this may be the story for some older adults, illness and older age are not equivalents. And even elderly patients managing chronic disease want to do things that do not involve their ‘conditions’.”

There are many of us who are healthy, and many, many more of us who think it’s our responsibility to stay that way. Recent statistics support this assertion:

In England, Aura Donnelly, Health Editor for the Telegraph, Aug, 2014, reports that although the period from 2001 to 2011 shows that despite an 11 per cent rise in the number of people aged 65 and over, the number of people living in care homes is almost unchanged.

In 2011, around 291,000 pensioners were living in such accommodation – just 1,000 more than a decade earlier.

In the US, there are an estimated 78 million baby boomers. So, approximately 5 percent, or 3.9 million are expected to need future care in a nursing home. Today, a senior citizen (65+) has about a one-in-four chance of spending time in a skilled care facility.

On behalf of those who will need care, we are happy that the scientific community has us in its sights and are developing innovations that will help us with our physical needs.

Newer on the research scene, but rapidly gaining the imagination of researchers, is the possibility of using automation, or more specifically, artificial intelligence, for social reasons. Friendly, life-like robots, some with the capability to solicit affection from their users, have already been developed for the older adult who is lonely and isolated, and in need of connection.

Some are in the form of pets, such as the companion robot ElliQ, who has been given pet-like characteristics with convincing accuracy, and the capability to build relationships and bond, as witnessed in a residence in Israel:

“Hebrew Home got its first one in March. Ms. Farkas tried it out on a resident in her late 70s who was searching in a panic for her long-deceased parents. Usually, someone in this situation would be given a tranquilizer. Instead, Ms. Farkas handed her a robotic cat. The woman calmed right down.”

Still, this is a new and disturbing direction for the application of artificial intelligence. Potential use and relationship building of humans with robotic forms raises ethical questions:

-Are users (in this case older people) given the chance to present their perspective?

-In the case of Alzheimer’s patients, are they given control and do they understand that the ‘pet’ is fictional, and a robot?

I caution the scientific community to think carefully about how it involves older people in its experiments. Any innovations developed on our behalf must be approached with care and respect for human values.

And yet, it’s inevitable that with the first surge of Baby Boomers hitting their 70s—with a huge wave to follow—technology will play a growing role in enabling older adults like us to be independent and live in our homes longer. Most of us, I’m quite sure, will welcome it!

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18 Responses to Aging in Place With ElliQ and Other Innovations

  1. Barry Dym says:

    I love the practicality of this post.

  2. “Friendly, life-like robots, some with the capability to solicit affection from their users, have already been developed for the older adult who is lonely and isolated, and in need of connection…”

    Robots will never replace human warmth and affection in my life; they will never make me feel connected in any way. I would be interested in any ethical research that suggests that this has occurred, or that it is even possible, research not funded by technology companies.
    I am affectionate towards my computer… it is my most loved object. I was also affectionate towards my hiking boots, which took me to so many places in my life… I kept them in the closet for decades after they wore out, because every time I looked at them I could revisit those wonderful years. But the computer, the boots, and the affection I have for them, are not human connection… they are tools that connect me with humans. The HUMANS are the operative element in the equation, not the tools.

    I guess I am reacting very strongly to this because I have experienced severe isolation, with only a computer to connect me to people outside my home… the computer was vital, but only because it connected me to people. I NEVER felt connected to the computer itself, I just appreciated it as a tool, like I would a winter coat on a cold day, a raincoat on a rainy day.

    As for the technology that might make staying in the home viable, as long as it respects the privacy and dignity of the individual, then it has some potential to help people meet that goal. Because of the issues with internet hacking and security, and lack of accountability when they become issues, I feel that vulnerable people should not be left to the vagaries of machine dominated care.

    I will use an example of technology which I feel has gone wrong, and has drained public funds away from more effective programs. Telehealth Ontario. It has been touted as health care consultation at the other end of the telephone line, sounds like a good idea…
    Phooey.
    I have called Telehealth Ontario, where there is supposedly a nurse ready to address health questions. I have called them many, many times, particularly when we lived an hours drive from the nearest health care facility. EVERY time I called, no exception, no practical advice was given, no insight into what was happening during the health event was provided, all my personal information was carefully recorded for who knows what purpose other than to maintain a head count for funding, and on every single call I was advised to go and sit in the waiting room of the nearest hospital emergency department.
    I feel it is a huge waste of health care funds. Ontario needs toclose down this excuse-not-to-do-anything-effective, and implement measures that address people’s real needs.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I appreciate what you say about technology, Maggie. It is only a tool, but the ability to connect humans to each other in the way we have experienced since the advent of the internet is remarkable. And yes, I share your concerns about the risks we take, especially in connecting with health care via the internet. We have a similar service to Telehealth Ontario, but I have yet to explore it. Thanks for your comment, and take care.

  3. peter j says:

    I look forward to the robot that will dust my place..

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’ve considered buying the robo vacuum, but hear that it gets stuck in places and spins around uselessly unless there is someone nearby to supervise it. But dusting, Peter, is a taller order—I think we’ll have to wait awhile for that!

  4. in New Zealand, there are now many retirement villages where older people and the minimum age is changing to “not before you’ve 70” you can buy into a residence. Often this has been after someone has sold their family/other home – it means you’ve not worrying about all kinds of home/house things although the villages usually have a weekly rate of some sort…

    occasionally some of those same villages have rentals available for those of who don’t have an ownership property to help fund our way in…

    care homes are often attached to these same villages, so you can move through the system without too much inconvenience.

    however, there has been issues at times around the$$ – sometimes other issues that people have not read in the fine print etc…and then there was the saga relating to “leaky homes” which wasn’t just these villages but many people particularly in large apt blocks found themselves with my $$ to shell out (still being rectified in many cases…)

    [once I owned a house with my then husband, but now I live in a private rental which at this time suits me well…yep, there’s a few issues but basically all good, I have a great landlord even though he is offshore]

  5. I don’t have a robot that dusts my place, but I love my Roomba! (I have the 650 but it has been replaced by the the 652, which I just ordered as a backup.) We (the two of us) have been vacuuming like mad the last couple of days and the 650 can’t last forever. It does the work, I empty the bin, clean the brushes, and tell it where I want it to vacuum. We make a great team. 🙂

  6. ann oxrieder says:

    Very encouraging news!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I think this is just the beginning. Researchers and inventors are working overtime these days to provide all sorts of ‘miracles’ for us. Of course, they are looking at ‘cashing in’, since the Boomers are such a large group.

  7. Rummuser says:

    Very interesting read indeed. We have many seniors here either as couples or singles whose children have gone away from home either to other towns or overseas and with no one else to care for them at home. Many homes for such people are coming up but many would prefer to stay at the place where they have aged for sentimental reasons.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I know, Rummuser—so much better to stay in a place that is familiar and safe, where loved ones are nearby! But family mobility has changed so many things!

  8. PiedType says:

    So many wonderful devices are already available. So many things voice controlled, or remotely monitored by phone or camera. I’ve not acquired many yet, but my son has. And as I become older, I’m sure we’ll be employing all kinds of devices to allow me to stay in my home but be closely monitored, if necessary. The single most important, I think, is being able to push a button (or just speak to a nearby device) to call for help — not those systems monitored by a distant third party but one that will dial my son and/or 9-1-1.

    The quote about a light coming on when a person stands — I’m giving my daughter-in-law an under-bed light she asked for that comes on to light the floor as soon as she steps out of bed. And the reminder about taking pills — they’ve recently announced pills with something implanted in them that will tell remotely monitoring nurses when the pill has been taken.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s much safer to have a voice controlled device, rather than a touch type. In the case of having hands injured or disabled, being able to call or speak out could save lives. I agree that science is developing many inventions which will facilitate our being alone a lot longer. We do live in interesting times!

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