Care for Elderly and Disabled Goes to the Cloud

4596724034_2d92fc5bc4At its best, health technologies help reduce the impact that disease or diminished abilities have on a person. Mediclim, for example, provides a seemingly simple yet profound service by sending air-quality warnings to folks suffering from conditions such as asthma that are exacerbated by the weather. Now, with the help of  a European collaboration, cloud computing is entering the atmosphere of practical, and potentially innovation-rich, home-health applications.

Massive Art Media in Austria and CoSi Elektronic in Germany collaborated on a project called myVitali, which allows greater ability to monitor the wellbeing of the elderly and disabled to health care workers and potentially family members or other caregivers.

The collaborative is using wireless devices, and though the technology is not necessarily anything new (remote monitoring of blood pressure, warnings when individuals remain motionless for a certain period of time etc..), the underlying conditions and parameters they considered is practical and pragmatic:

Ease of Use: Since the point is to monitor the wellbeing of individuals who by definition are somewhat impaired either in mobility or other ways, any technologies need to be easy to use and not require knowledge of computers. Wireless devices are handy because since they are not wired to the wall, they can also be used in multiple rooms.

Reliability. The project is utilizing cloud computing because of its ability to offer multiple backups. Relying on a single internet service point, for example, would make an entire system vulnerable to a single server outage. To be trusted and reliable, this type of service needs to essentially be “on” 24/7.

Security. Since its handling confidential data, not to mention information that could place vulnerable individuals in danger if it fell into the hands of the wrong people, myVitali uses the same type of encryption used by wireless technologies in the banking and financial services sectors.

Technological Companions or Creepy Spies?

Meanwhile another German collaborative consisting of CIBEK Technology, Binder Electronik and Westpfalz Klinikum, has launched a project called ProAssist4Life (short for Proactive Assistance for Critical Life Situations), that acts as a technological “companion” for the elderly. By tracking movement, and learning about an individuals normal behavior, it can send text message alerts when someone begins spending more time than usual in the bathroom, for example, or has remained motionless at a time when they are normally active.

This type of technology would be helpful if it assists the elderly “age in place” in their own homes. But Would such technologies make the elderly or disabled feel securely looked-after, or strangely spied upon by a high tech “rat” who texts the kids alarming messages based on something as inane as changes in daily patterns of movement?

Remote Sensing with the iPhone

Similar approaches have been used by spatial epidemiologists to study the movements of elderly people in their environments. In that case some folks, such as Ethan Berke at Dartmouth Medical School, have simply used reprogrammed iPhones. Here’s a short interview with Dr. Berke about his research:

Photo credit: The Author, via Flickr