Pervasive Computing Transforms
Approaches to Elder Care
An e-knowledge approach can be combined with pervasive
computing to improve our understanding of aging, to improve elder
care, and to make some aspects of our own aging less problematic.
Pervasive computing makes possible the collection of detailed, moment-by-moment
data on user actions and contexts, wirelessly, anywhere and anytime.
A global community of organizations is using this approach to gather
data on the lives and needs of the elderly with a view to increasing
their autonomy and quality of care.
One of the data capturing pioneers is Elite Cares
Oatfield Estates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has built pervasive
computing into its living spaces. Residents carry dual-channel radio
frequency locator tags that serve as their apartment key and emit
periodic infrared pulses to the sensors in each room. Beds have
embedded weight sensors. Each apartment has motion and health vitals
sensors plus a networked computer with touch screen interface, enabling
communication through e-mail, word processing, audio for speech
recognition, and video conferencing using webcams. These systems
and sensors feed personalized databases on each resident. Caregivers
use these databases to monitor personal health, activity levels,
and interactions with medical attention and status of medication.
Managers use this knowledge base to monitor staff
performance. Residents use the personal history data, both theirs
and others, to foster social interactions with other patients. This
environment has changed the way that residents live. They have greater
control and autonomy, knowing that if they become disoriented and
wander, require emergency help, or fall behind in their medication,
assistance will be forthcoming immediately. Caregivers and medical
personnel do not need to manually record and enter patient data;
they have access to a far richer knowledge base on each patient,
easily accessed and arrayed.
While these developments bring immediate benefit to
residents, their families, and caregivers, our primary interest
is in the implications for e-knowledge. From the perspective of
health professionals and policy makers, the data collected in such
schemes can be merged with data being collected globally on patient
activity, and care. Multiple analyses can be undertaken, ranging
from pattern determination (e.g., as in epidemiology) to codification
of what works in elder care, in repositories of grounded
knowledge and tradecraft that can be used by caregivers and medical
More futuristically, new forms of assisted living
can be envisaged in which pervasive computing is combined with intelligent
agent technology to compensate for declining cognitive facilities.
An example is the difficulty that many people have in retaining
their skill base and tacit knowledge as they age. Even when we are
young, our ability to perform a task fluidly and automatically typically
declines if we do not practice the task frequently. We become rusty.
This loss of competence in relation to rarely-used knowledge may
become more problematic as we age. Pervasive computing offers the
prospect of regaining that knowledge on demand.