High-tech help for the elderly

May 27, 2010

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More than 400 of the world’s leading experts in geriatric health, housing and assistive technology are meeting in Vancouver May 27–30 at the International Society for Gerontechnology 7th World Conference, hosted by SFU’s Gerontology Research Centre (GRC).

Through presentations, workshops and exhibits, gerontologists, engineers, computer scientists, architects, technology professionals, health-care providers, assisted-living companies and others will assess the latest research and technologies needed to address an expected tsunami of demand for eldercare services in the next few decades.

"We’re already dealing with the largest number of people over 65 in history," says SFU gerontologist and founding GRC director, Gloria Gutman, who is in charge of logistics for the world conference—the fi rst held in Canada— at the Marriott Pinnacle Hotel.

"People over 85 are the fastest- growing section of the population— and half of them have, or will have, Alzheimer’s," says Gutman. "But those numbers are going to explode in the next few years as Canada’s 8 ½ million baby boomers reach old age, and so will the cost of caring for them."

Conference topics include rehabilitation engineering, robotics, telemonitoring, telecare, information and communication technology (ICT), biomechanics and ergonomics, assistive technology, inclusive design and usability, smart homes and smart fabrics, sensor technology, and cognitive aging and computer games.

Participants will also see demonstrations of an array of new technologies, from smart-house systems and wearable devices that monitor people’s movements and vital signs, to pill bottles that tell you when to take your medicine and even an autonomous robot named Nao.

Technology may be the answer to maximizing scarce resources and providing better care for the elderly. "But not without safeguarding their security and privacy rights, and not at the cost of depression and isolation due to a loss of personal contact," says Gutman, an elder abuse expert.

"We have to find ways to maintain both."

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