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Common technology could help seniors maintain independence

November 19, 2012

Independent living is important for many seniors, but sometimes concerns about their mobility or health can make it difficult.  Researchers from Australia are working with radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensor technologies to develop devices that can monitor whether seniors are following their normal routine or if they need assistance.

The research is interesting because RFID technology is nothing new. In fact, it is often used to monitor shoplifting or identify vehicles, and has been around since the 1940s. Despite its lengthy history, the project is one of the first to investigate whether RFID technology can be used to monitor the movement of human beings. The effort could have a significant impact on the aging community, experts say.

"This is becoming a significant problem for most developed countries where the proportion of older people is rapidly increasing and the labor market is tightening – there are more elderly people to be looked after but less people to do it," said chief investigator Dr. Michael Sheng. "We are trying to solve this by developing a system using a network of sensors attached to objects that the person is interacting with in the home - using software to interpret the collected data to tell us what someone is doing."

Such devices are helpful because they can monitor the well-being of seniors without being too obtrusive, which is especially important to a population that values maintaining its independence. In fact, a recent study from Clarity and The EAR Foundation revealed just how true that is.

The results were based on a poll of more than 800 older adults and revealed that 26 percent of seniors rated losing their independence as a top fear. Additionally, 13 percent highlighted moving to a nursing home as a big concern.