Aging In Place

Aging in place.

NOTE: See EMAIL Exchange with Rolph Sherlock

As baby boomers get older, we will increasingly see them requiring more care. At some point, families will struggle with the issue of whether an aging parent should remain at home, or move into a care facility. Obviously, having our elders stay at home – what is often called ‘Aging in Place’ – is considered a good thing, but staying at home come at the risk of sudden health incidents and accidents going undetected, or of the supporting family spending excessive time making sure the parent is ok.

This project will investigate the possibilities of ubiquitous computing technologies to support Aging in Place. In particular, we are deeply interested in a) What are the relevant social issues that come to play with aging in place? b) What are the opportunities of technologies to capture the state of an elderly at home, i.e., their activity levels and health, without being overly intrusive? c) How can the state of an elderly person by transmitted and displayed to the supporting family, in particular, via ambient displays (for background knowledge of non-critical events) to alarms (when possibly critical events occur)? The particular audience we are interested in are not those in severe medical situations, but rather those elderly who would be quite comfortable living at home if they had assurances of a support group occasionally checking in with them.

To answer these questions, we will likely pursue the following points. a) Review the pertinent literature – both technical and social – on aging inplace b) Conduct a series of studies of people at the cusp to: uncover the issues around aging in place for both the elderly and the support structure, discover the means they currently use to stay informed; consider the roles that ubiquitous technologies can play c) Construct several prototype installations to support aging in place: first in the lab (as proof of concept), then at selected homes (as case studies).

Amies thoughts

A few quick thoughts. I can offer more substantive (and informed) reflection after Wednesday...

Steve and I have had lots of exposure to the aging in place research around Tech. Neither of us has ever worked in the area, though. I did some research early on in conjunction with the aware home and had, at one point talked with Beth about following an aging in "place" research thread with respect to the large number of retirees who live out their retirement in RVs (some great anthropology work on this out of Waterloo: http://anthropology.uwaterloo.ca/counts.html). Probably not a great context for exploring the use of large displays, for example, but possibly an interesting and unexplored niche in the space...

My general sense (possibly a couple years out-of-date) is that most of the work in this area has focused on implicit sensing and technologies involving intra-family communication. I'm not sure we've seen much that has explored technologies fostering the support that one gets from one's peer group (e.g., the six couples that have all gotten together once a month to play bridge for the last 40 years) or to address actual *needs* that individuals aging-in-place might have (e.g., the gotcha of the suburbs -- once individuals can't drive, they can't get to the grocery store when they run out of milk or to the pharmacy when they need medication).

One more general reaction: having at least one thread of research involve working with new students and other researchers on larger-scale collaborations would be an absolute joy and a happy contrast from the relatively solitary dissertation research of the last couple years!!