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Independent Living for the Aging Is Possible With New Technology

3 labs put aging in place to the test

Is placing a robot in the home intrusive? Does it reduce isolation? A volunteer participant lives with Celia, a robot with a video screen, which the participant can operate with a remote control. The volunteer's faraway family can direct Celia through the software installed on their own computer and move the robot to different rooms so relatives can "visit" with Grandma during the day.

They found: Scientists learned the motion sensors can't distinguish who triggers them —  was it a spouse or a visitor? So they are developing software to detect changes in activity to better analyze the data. The pillbox, they found, could be a sensitive measure of memory, since those who scored on the lower end of normal in cognition tests had a more difficult time remembering to take the pills. And Celia the robot? Researchers hypothesized she would be too intrusive, but testers loved the family contact. As long as care recipients could turn off the video screen for privacy purposes, social connectivity trumped having a big white robot in the middle of the room.

HAIL is a year-old partnership between the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging, and the Charter House, a continuing care retirement community that's connected to the Mayo Clinic and is the site of the lab.

They asked: Is a tablet computer (similar to an iPad) an effective tool for tracking how those with chronic diseases, like hypertension and diabetes, are taking their medications? Does it work for health coaching?

To find out, researchers installed a tablet computer with video messaging in participants' apartments and gave them wireless blood pressure cuffs. When participants take their blood pressure, their tablets record the information. If their levels are elevated, a health coach on a remote computer is able to have a live chat with the resident via the tablet and make suggestions on how to lower the numbers. After users tell the tablet computer they've taken their hypertension medication, the tablet displays their blood pressure score along with a picture of the circulatory system showing how the medicine affects the body.

HAIL researchers also wanted to know if patients would be annoyed by having to wear a Band-Aid-size cardiac sensor on the chest that transmits real-time information about heart health to a caregiving team. Would it feel intrusive?

Next: Findings from the iPad study and NASA technology. »

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