Technology for the Aging


Maintaining functional independence is a high priority for many older adults. Often, staying in their own homes is a key to such independence. Computer technology and innovations in computer interfaces have the potential of assisting the elderly to maintain their independence by supporting everyday tasks and increasing the interaction with caregivers and family members. One new theme supporting this view that is gaining widespread acceptance is the concept of “aging in place”. The goal is to sensitively and unobtrusively support home living for as long as possible. It is also necessary that the support network change in response to declining physical and cognitive abilities.

In the long term, it should be possible for seniors to remain in their home with support from an unobtrusive encompassing network, thereby avoiding unnecessarily early institutionalization and the commensurate disruption of the social networks that the elderly depend upon to remain mentally healthy and physically engaged with the world. Given the growing shortage of nursing and other health care support personnel, there is also need to address understaffing in nursing homes and assisted living centers to improve the quality and safety of delivered care.

There is a very wide range of promising technological innovations to assist the elderly and physically handicapped that can dramatically reduce health care costs, while substantially increasing the quality of life for many in our society. To be truly effective, the support should include not only the elderly themselves, but their entire support network, including friends, family, caregivers, health care professionals, and the like. Thus, it is likely that fully integrated supportive environments for the elderly will encompass many of the current application and research areas of computer science, including local and remote networking, computer interfaces and interaction models, computer vision, robotics, privacy issues, etc. The University of Massachusetts Amherst Computer Science (CS) Department is already very active in several important research thrusts that directly focus on technology development for elders aging in place. Furthermore, the department has very strong research expertise and significant research funding in other areas that can easily be applied to eldercare to broaden our current efforts.

The Computer Science Department at U.Mass. Amherst has a tradition of excellence and achievement in major research projects. The 40 faculty create research expenditures of more than $12 million per year and have achieved many distinctions and honors in their fields. With more than 170 graduate students pursuing doctorates, we represent a unique research capability in Western Massachusetts that is competitive with the best public universities nationwide.

We are in the process of building the foundation for a Research Center of Excellence to provide technological support for “aging in place”. This includes new major initiatives that have been recently funded and are already underway. It also includes the extensive resources of computer science expertise among the faculty (and many funded research projects) that have not yet been focused upon the elderly or the goal of graceful aging. We have also begun the process of identifying and establishing research relationships with elder centers and health delivery organizations (e.g. hospitals). These relationships are absolutely crucial to effective delivery and evaluation of the technology. Beyond that, they play a critical role during transfer of technology via industrial partners. We will discuss activities in each of these areas in the following sections, sometimes just briefly outlining the information.

Social Sciences & Technology

Social scientists and geriatric social workers, in partnership with the elderly, can best understand the potential of the technology, examine the ways aging clients might use it in their own context, address the learning transition into their effective use, and determine what challenges must be overcome for success. Technologists can provide reconfigurable experimental systems supporting field tests designed to provide empirical that can be used as dynamic feedback into this analysis. Together, these synergistic activities can provide systems for studying the broader introduction of technology to the aging population. This will allow systems of the future to be molded to the precise requirements of the aging population - systems that are ultimately based on carefully conducted research and trial. A unique aspect of this proposal is that the elderly will be essential members of the research team, thus permitting the elderly and key constituent groups to contribute to the shaping and design of assistive technology that will address their needs and that will form acceptable solutions to those needs.


Address Book: Short Description. [More Information][demo]
Calendar: Short description. [More Information][demo]
Fall Detection: Short description. [More Information][demo]
Vision-Based Object Finder: Short description. [More Information][demo]
Video Phone: Short description. [More Information][demo]