Home Care Goes High-Tech

New gadgets aid older people still living at home and support their caregivers

The Japanese have always been world leaders in creating the very latest and hippest electronic gadgets. Usually, these high-tech tools revolutionize the auto, computer, telecommunication or audio-visual industry. The latest gizmo, however, may change the way we care for the elderly, especially those who live on their own.

Meet ASIMO, a four-foot high, two-legged, humanoid robot developed by engineers at Honda. Resembling a small astronaut, ASIMO (an acronym for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) made its North American debut this past January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It wowed spectators by walking around stage, shaking hands with demonstrators, recognizing and responding to voice and hand commands and, being Vegas, even busting a few dance moves.

Honda has high hopes for its robot, projecting that down the road it will become a mechanized caregiver and companion for housebound elderly or disabled. Once the glitches are ironed out (it just learned to walk up and downstairs without falling flat on its robot face), the car company believes ASIMO will one day be capable of performing numerous personal and health-care tasks for the elderly, such as monitoring their safety, helping them in and out of beds or wheelchairs, monitoring vital signs – perhaps even tucking them into bed at night.

Technological advances like ASIMO could solve many of tomorrow’s caregiving problems. In the next 20 years, Canada is going to see the number of over-65s more than double, reaching almost 10 million by 2025. Many of these folks are going to be relatively healthy and independent – able to live at home with only minimal home-care assistance.

But will our home-care system be able to provide care for even their minor needs? Judging by the current system’s inability to cope with its present caseload, how will it possibly function when the number of seniors doubles? That’s why it’s so important that the innovations coming from the technology revolution are applied to the societal issues arising from the upsurge in longevity. Spurred on by advances in the Internet, artificial intelligence and robotic technology, many high-tech products are being developed that could one day find their way into seniors’ homes. Not only will they allow seniors to remain out of nursing homes but they will also allow medical professionals and family members to look after their needs from a distance.

The Washington-based organization called Center for Aging Services and Technologies (CAST) is trying to spur this revolution, bringing together technology companies and researchers to find ways in which scientific advancements can be applied to home care, maximizing the independence of the elderly as well as enhancing their quality of care – not to mention easing the worries of family and friends.

“As our senior population doubles over the next two decades, we face a daunting mission: to increase the quality of care for a record number of seniors while somehow reducing the nation’s health-care bill before the system implodes,” says Eric Dishman, CAST chairman.