To date, technology's impact on keeping seniors in their homes remains small. Though 60 percent of seniors (ages 65 and above) told the AARP in 2008 they'd be willing to use a device such as an activity monitor if it meant remaining at home longer, adoption rates for services such as LifeLine are much lower than that, D'Ambrosio points out. (This is also true in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, where the government subsidizes such purchases.) Concerns are many and include privacy, affordability, accessibility, availability of technical support, and lack of confidence in using the technology; moreover, these concerns are shared by patients as well as their caregivers, albeit less so if that caregiver is an adult child as opposed to a spouse.
Through the AgeLab's e-home project, D'Ambrosio and her team studied the effectiveness of a desktop setup that aimed to improve seniors' adherence to medication regimens. (Fewer than half of seniors keep prescriptions in an open, easy-to-reach area.) The setup included a monitor where patients and caregivers could leave notes, an "information globe" that amounted to a "you've got mail" icon and an RFID-enabled medication table.
The e-home study concluded that patients were more likely to adhere to their schedules if they and their caregivers (in this case, their children) were notified about a missed dose, as opposed to only the patient receiving a reminder. More reminders also meant more communication between parents and children. Equally telling, though, was the participant feedback: The setup would have worked even better had it taken up less counter space.
5. Emotion sensors: For the willing, anything can be monitored
When you're hard at work, deep in thought, or emotionally stimulated, your brain sends signals to your skin, especially your hands and feet. This is called electrodermal activity, and it's triggered by the sympathetic nervous system as part of our innate "fight or flight" response system. Measuring this activity used to require wires and sensors, which had its shortcomings -- namely, wearers couldn't wash their hands. Advances in sensor technology now allow for noninvasive monitoring all day and night.
Much of the work done by Rosalind Picard, founder and director of the MIT Affective Computing Research Group, concerns children with autism. Emotion sensors such as the Q Sensor (made by Affectiva, which Picard co-founded) can indicate when a child is about to act out or has calmed down.