In this electronically, technologically challenging era, there are some strides being made which actually are helpful and hopeful. New solutions for a better quality and longer life are being developed at the MIT Age Lab in Cambridge, Mass. Founded in 1999; technological advancement is their reason for being.
A recent focus for development has been finding ways to monitor the eating habits of senior citizens, tracking how and when medication and supplements are taken, and fulfilling the need for interaction with other people. NASA had a system for communicating with the astronauts when they were in space. Could this same system be as effective in meeting the needs in question?
A touch-screen videoconferencing computer was installed in a volunteer’s kitchen, sending the pertinent data directly to the family’s waiting computer. Not only could they find out that Grandma actually had eaten, they could discuss what she had eaten in a lively, interactive, after-breakfast chat. So, although Grandma was initially apprehensive about the change, technology proved to be a friend.
Elsewhere in scientific circles, like-minded researchers are engaging in similar experiments and enjoying similar, encouraging results. In Rochester, Minn, the Healthy Aging and Independent Living (HAIL) Lab interacts with a continuing care retirement center called the Charter House. This community is connected to the Mayo Clinic and is where the lab is located.
Once again, the concerns being addressed were tracking medication and interaction with the elderly, in particular those with chronic diseases. Was the person with diabetes or hypertension taking their supplements? If there was a problem, could communication be established between patient and health coach to handle the problem at the time it was happening?
Researchers had tablet computers with video messaging installed in volunteer’s apartments. They were given wireless blood pressure cuffs so their tablets could record their blood pressure information. With an elevated level, a health coach can engage in a live chat with the patient on a remote computer, finding out exactly what is happening, and giving instructions to follow.
At the time of medication for hypertension, the user tells the tablet, and this ingenious device not only displays the blood pressure information, but it shows a picture of the entire circulatory system, and the effect the medication is having on the body.
Another concern researchers had was whether or not patients would object to, or be annoyed by, a cardiac sensor on the chest. This Band-Aid-size transmitter would feed pertinent heart-care information to a healthcare team. In both cases, with the tablet and the sensor, participants not only didn’t mind the equipment, they enjoyed having a part in their health care.
They were able to see for themselves how their medication worked, and what would happen to them if they didn’t take it. Here again, what researchers hoped would happen, did happen. Not only did technology accomplish the intended goals, but the patients accepted the new treatment as a valuable asset.