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Spencer for Hire :: Helping Our Elderly with Technology

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Providing appropriate technology to support people in their own homes is difficult. Ascertaining needs, real needs as opposed to desires and wish fulfillments can be harder still. For the designer of Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) the effort can be compounded by the other parties involved with the disabled person, such as support workers, social care staff and finances.

If you have ever gone to the trade shows in Pomona or Ontario you would get an eye full of new or future gadgets that will assist our elderly in day to day living. Some projects are being developed to construct not only a home but an entire community to assist the elderly or disabled individual with their daily chores.

The smart home appears to be the answer, by providing services to the disabled person through a network of preconfigured devices, and clearly in some cases this is appropriate. The use of RF modules configured together can produce a powerful system that allows alerts to be produced and the disabled person to be monitored on a number of different levels.

But the questions remain… Does it work? Does it really work? Is the system truly dependable? Does the system do what the disabled person expects it to do? Does it do it all the time or when it is expected to do it?

Are the alerts suitable for the disabled person (not too loud or soft)? Is there a remote connection that the alerts are transferred to? If so what happens if the person at this location is not present at the time of the alert?

Other pressing questions… Is it priced reasonably for the average American citizen? How good is a unit if people can’t afford it? Is it built to last forever? Will it fall apart in a month or two making it useless from conception? Will it be available in local stores and supply warehouses? Most elderly and disabled can’t or won’t use a computer, so purchasing the units on the internet is out.

All these questions are nothing more than the starting point of any good design, but things get complicated when the design is for a specific client group and for groups of individuals sharing communal spaces.

The DIRC (Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Dependability of Computer-Based Systems) project has been involved in designing residential spaces providing responsive and appropriate support and care for people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and those who present challenging behaviors.

These residential spaces are in Aberdeen, Scotland (UK) currently but I’m hoping something like this will make its way to the United States soon. They are individually tailored to meet the needs of the disabled dweller. At the same time they need to be easily reconfigurable for future dwellers.

The systems used in these sites are too complex to detail here but use six layers of system ranging from a support worker/staff attack system (IR and RF), a basic activity monitoring system, a security system (in case of burglaries), and a fire system amongst other integrated systems.

The use of technology to enhance the support requirements of people with ASD and those who may present challenging behaviors, was seen as a proactive way of assisting individuals to live as independently as possible, minimizing risk and enabling the provision of qualitative support rather than intensive care.

The systems are designed to respond to changing need with capacity to either add or detract as the individual support plans require.

The project has adapted standard 'off the shelf' hard wired and RF/IR systems and reconfigured them to work together to produce a unified multilayered system. There are certain key elements to the systems that should be made clear. It was designed to support the caring process, it was designed to enhance the life choices of the people with ASD and those who present challenging behaviors, it was designed to be non-invasive, and it was designed to enhance the supporting process.

Although the designs are being refined with each new build the basic premise is the same, however more products must be created to address other needs and disabilities. This is a great start but only scratches the surface of what is truly needed. With all the technology out their we surely can create a home that will make any individual feel secure at any age or disability. Haven’t we spent enough on video games?

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