Archive | November 2011

Increasing number of elderly drivers raises safety concerns

Today, populations in many countries worldwide are undergoing an aging process. As members of the Baby Boom generation approach the silver tip of their lifespan, they are representing a rapid growing portion of the driving population.

In the US, the figure is expected to triple in the coming 20 years and this is fast becoming a case for concern. Statistics reveal that drivers about the age of 65 are increasingly exposed to the danger of getting into a car accident. Elderly drivers beyond the age of 75 find themselves in greater peril, with a sharp rise in the likelihood of driver fatality.

With age come visual, response, and cognitive deficiencies. These can result in behavioral factors that include lane-drifting, weakened reaction ability in unexpected circumstances, and poor judgment in left turn manoeuvres, thereby endangering the lives of other motorists and pedestrians on the road.

Yet, with the continual expansion of elderly care market, assistive devices with visibility, comfort and control enhancements could potentially be the solution for elderly drivers in the future. Auto-makers such as General Motors (GM) are even contemplating with designs of cutting-edge windshields that utilize lasers, infrared sensors and cameras to enhance the visibility of a car’s surrounding.

As for now, it is important that the elderly balance between independence and safety before making the decision to drive. Although counter-measures such as deficit reporting laws and compulsory driving tests have been meted out to tackle the growing problem, road safety itself begins with every road users.

Experts caution family members to initiate the topic sensitively over a comfortable period of time. Alternate transportations are also recommended to provide their loved ones with other means to get around places.


(Source: Smart MotoristABC News, Comfort Life)

(Image source: The New York Times)


A senior’s guardian angel

Falling in your own home is a great worry for elderly living by themselves. With this worry in mind, and as part of a project aimed to develop future health care at home, the engineers at the Stockholm-based Centre for Health and Building, CHB, have constructed a wheeled walker with a built-in camera eye, guidance computer and videophone function.

If the user of the wheeled walker falls in his home and presses his alarm button around his wrist, the camera can be navigated with a joystick from a terminal to search for the fallen person and once found he can communicate with nurses through a video call. The device is not only a great security for the senior himself, but also for worrying close family. None of the technology used is new but it is an innovative way of bringing communication devices to the homes of elderly to increase their safety.

So far, the high-tech wheeled walker is only available in CHB’s Full Scale Living Laboratory where R&D projects are undertaken to find cost-efficient and innovative ways to improve and enhance the usage of the normal home as a place of care.

Source: Interview with Professor Tore J Larsson at the Centre for Health and Building 16th of November 2011

The future of home care?

Last Saturday SvD, one of Sweden’s major newspapers, posted an article in their printed only edition about the arrival of ‘the era of the robots’, covering how modern robots are challenging macro economical beliefs that higher unemployment would be positively correlated with lower production. The article, partly based on the work by two researchers at M.I.T., points out that the structural change that we are seeing in the labor market, and that is explaining the ‘jobless recovery’, shows that as systems and technologies get more and more integrated, jobs that earlier were considered too advanced for robots and/or systems, can now be automated.

One such job, that is not fully there yet, but that the science fiction world has long foreseen as to be held by robots, is that of the home care assistant. Whereas large scale implementations in this field thus far have been delimited to robots carrying out simpler tasks, such as vacuum cleaning or lawn mowing, new, improved humanoid and social robots are showing the potential to change that.

One good example is that of Nao, an autonomous, programmable, humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, that with its over 1500 units distributed worldwide is the world’s most used humanoid robot.

As the ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘speaking’ ‘feeling’ and ‘communicating’ robot that it is, Nao really has the potential to become the perfect little home helper. As Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of Aldebaran, put it “Old people turning blind can say ‘Hey, Nao, please come here’, and the robot will recognize somebody asking him to come, he would go over and ask what do you want me to do – (like) reading my email or newspaper.”. Current research projects include teaching Nao how to prepare a drink, how to entertain as a stand-up comedian or how to win Robot Soccer World Cup SPL (RoboCup).

As the general public will have to wait until late 2012 with Nao’s adaption to the consumer market, til then you can try to make do with this little demonstration of Nao’s entertaining capabilities:

Exercising to music may reduce fall rates

A Geneva-based elderly research has shed light on the benefits of exercising to music. Swiss doctors revealed that music-based exercise routines can enhance the strength and balance of the elderly people, hence decreasing the rate of falls.

The year-long research required elderly participants to execute a series of exercises to piano music for an hour weekly. These include a variety of balance-challenging movements where the difficulty level was progressively raised. After 6 months, the number of fall cases was found to have dipped by 50%, prompting suggestions that music-based exercises may be useful for falls prevention services.

This is good news for the NHS and social care in UK where medical expenditure of fall injuries and deaths by the elderly are amounting up to £6m daily. It is estimated that 7,000 unnecessary deaths via falls can be avoided every year should all the elderly participate in a customized exercise program.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth as much as a pound of cure. The price of cure is already costing the British government millions of pounds, and they are now on a steep learning curve to recognize the importance of enhancing the standards of falls prevention services.

(Source: BBC)

(Image source: Remain Active)

The value of a problem

Many of our best innovations originate in problems. Actual challenges that people have faced in their own lives that they have started thinking about and innovate around. One such great example is the work of Sam Farber. He saw his wife, Betsey, who suffered from arthritis, struggling with the vegetable peeler. The peeler’s grip wasn’t wide enough for her to achieve a steady grip. So in 1989, at the age of 61, he launched a new company, OXO International, to create ergonomically correct household gadgets for people of all ages. The couple started innovating around the regular kitchen appliances and launched 15 products in 1990. The sales of the products experienced a growth of over 35% per year from 1991 to 2002. The line now has over 500 products and has received over 100 awards.

Now, at the age of 83, Sam Farber still is a driving force in the world of design “I try hard to get away, but I’m still involved,” Farber says with a laugh. “The world is full of bad design, so there is a lot to do.”


Picture Source:

The Aid of Point and Click in Finding their One True Love

The advent of internet technology has paved the way for online dating. The “younger” and the “feeling young” generation had joined the bandwagon if not once but twice to try out their luck in finding their Mr. and Ms. Right. With a point and click and a fast bandwidth, finding a partner is as easy as heating a pizza in the microwave oven.

The whole Philippines were captivated and deeply inspired by this picture posted in the famous social networking site Facebook this week. Here was a picture of an old woman, Lola Aurelia looking for her 78 year old forgetful husband Lolo Luis. It had been two weeks that Lola Aurelia would go out of the streets from dusk till dawn to look for Luis and hand over some flyers to their neighbors in hope that she could find her partner for decades.

Alas, after almost 65,000 shares in the users’ walls, two of the biggest media networks in the country had featured the old woman’s search in the television and radio. And a day after the picture’s release, Lola Aurelia was reunited with Lolo Luis looking forward in sharing one or two more decades together.

Technology is shaping our society’s ways. The old practices of serenading and courtship may soon phase out. But the core human values of love and family remain; may it be offline or online.


A second tongue helps retain the memory

Dementia is one of the pressing health problems of the elderly population. It refers to a class of mental disorders characterized by the progressive decline of the brain functions such as memory and cognition. During the latter phase, older persons with dementia have difficulty in

performing simple everyday tasks and retaining short term memory. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. On a positive note, patients with early dementia can use cognitive activities to preserve viable brain cells. These activities include playing chess, dominoes, crossword puzzles, bingo, Sudoku and scrabble.

Recent researches suggest that the lifetime use of a second language delays the progression of Dementia. Bialystok et al. (2007) showed that bilingualism delays the onset of dementia 4.1 years later than monolinguals. However, the study results can only be generalized to people who have mastery and usage of another language and not to those who only knew one or two conversation phrases. These findings are especially promising for Asian countries who have at least two or more native languages like the Philippines. But still further studies are needed to determine the effect of multilingualism in the progression of dementia.

So if you like to start a new hobby of learning another language, here’s a jump start to the  Filipino language. “Kumusta! Kapag ako ay matanda na, ako ay hindi magiging makakalimutin.” (Hello, when I become older, I will not be forgetful.”)

Source: Bialystok E. et al. Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia Volume 45, Issue 2, 2007 pages 459-464