What if our homes
could become more "supportive" of wellness and aid in
the early detection of illness with instrumentation
and health monitoring devices that collect data through
an array of sensors that transmit information electronically
to a doctor? What if the home could promote healthy
eating and more active lifestyles and encourage us to
proactively take better care of ourselves?
issue: September 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine
From the Top
Bringing Health Care Home
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by Dick Topping, director of Appliance Research, TIAX, LLC
When most of us think of retirement, we envision happy days filled with family, friends, and hobbies. We think of a rich, independent life of our own making. But as we age, the likelihood of needing assistance with even basic daily tasks multiplies, as does our odds of living in a nursing home.
By 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65
will double, creating an unsustainable increase in demand
for medical services, as the "boomers" will require,
on average, five times the number of clinic visits than
those younger than them.
Back in January, I wrote about the Open Source Building
Alliance (OSBA), a concept that will provide individuals
with choices about how to configure their homes, while
also allowing for mass-customization through a modular
component system. This forward-thinking Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) forum allows companies
to participate in testing strategies and setting standards
for future single- and multi-family residences. One
of the most desired byproducts of this new building
paradigm will be living spaces that unobtrusively monitor
and encourage individual wellness.
MIT and my company, TIAX, have just finished constructing
PlaceLab, a shared research facility nestled in a new
building in Cambridge, MA, U.S. It features a 1,000-sq-ft
apartment where researchers are studying how people
will use technology in their living space on a daily
basis. Researchers are creating a supportive home that
can maintain or even improve the health of people as
they age to allow them independence and life quality
in later years.
Volunteers will actually live in the facility during
experiments that will run from a few days to several
months. Researchers are eager to test out cost-effective
home-based early warning systems to detect changes in
a person's health early on, when prevention or quick
recovery are still attainable. Changes in eating, sleeping,
and socialization patterns often herald the onset of
emerging health problems - especially in elderly persons.
PlaceLab researchers will also attempt to make positive
changes in people's diet, exercise, and prescription
drug compliance through the use of non-invasive, home-based
biometric monitoring devices, such as blood pressure
sensors and EKGs. For more detailed information, see
the PlaceLab link on www.tiax.biz.
The University of Rochester in New York, U.S. is developing
its own living lab concept known as the Center for Future
Health. Researchers there have developed a gait monitor
to track the way residents walk. A change in gait -
say from brisk walking to limping or shuffling - could
indicate an oncoming illness such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's,
or a stroke.
Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA, U.S.) researchers are developing
a "digital family portrait" - a communication system
that helps adult children monitor the health and well
being of their aging parents, even if they live across
the country. It tracks eating, sleeping, and mobility
patterns, as well as temperature and weather so that
changes in patterns may be interpreted properly - such
as a parent's reduced activity on a snowy day.
At an Intel lab in Hillsboro, OR, U.S., researchers
are using inexpensive sensors and processors coupled
with custom software to track even the most mundane
daily activities. For instance, if an Alzheimer's patient
is making a cup of tea, sensors would track his motions,
interpret his intentions through software recognition,
and aid him through a video prompt if he shows a lapse
in motion toward his goal. He could even be reminded
to turn off the stove.
MIT, the University of Rochester, and Georgia Tech
are just three examples of universities that are teaming
with companies such as Intel, TIAX, Motorola, Honeywell,
Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Accenture, GE Industrial Systems,
and Visteon to bring very innovative technologies into
Noticeably absent from the above list are major appliance
companies. Unfortunately, this lack of interest and
participation poses the threat of our industry being
blindsided by developments in this disruptive technology.
While health and wellness activity may initially seem
out of the "sweet spot" of the major appliance industry,
it is an opportunity for us to apply our skills and
experience to make a real difference in our customers'
By participating in developing partnerships and consortiums,
we can tap into new business models while getting a
sneak preview of technologies that will clearly alter
Dick Topping is director of Appliance Research
at TIAX LLC (www.tiax.biz). He can be reached
by phone at 617/498-6058, by fax at 617/498-7206,
or e-mail at email@example.com.
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