Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Your `smart' house will take care of you in old age

German researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have unveiled a 'smart' house which is programmed to help elderly residents live at home with dignity.

The house reminds residents when to take their medication, and it automatically monitors heart and respiration, makes sure no stove-top burners are left unattended and turns off water taps to prevent a sink or tub overflow. But you don't have to build the whole house. A 'smart' bathroom mirror is a start.

At the recent Cebit IT trade show, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems displayed a touch screen mirror that can remind people to take their medicine, wash their hands or brush their teeth.

When the medicine cabinet is opened, a display in the middle of the mirror tells the person how many pills to take. Stockmanns said Fraunhofer envisions linking the mirror with a care provider, which could remotely monitor whether a home-bound patient is actually taking medication and brushing their teeth on a regular basis.

As many older people have arthritic conditions which make it difficult to operate water taps, the mirror also has displays which turn the water tap on or off or regulate water temperature. Another display symbol can be used to raise the entire sink basin and toilet, a feature that is enabled in Fraunhofer's prototype.

For people who wear family radio frequency identification tags, the bathroom would know that person's preferences and display the appropriate icons on the mirror, befitting medication dosages and height of basin and toilet.

The bathroom is only the start. Kitchens, bedrooms and all other parts of the 'intelligent' home will become 'user-friendly' to accommodate individual needs.

Sensors in doors, toilets, taps, light switches and carpets detect every activity and record them electronically. Above all, this is important if the user needs professional care one day.

Doctors or care personnel can see from the computer records what personal hygiene tasks the person under care has completed, how often he or she has visited the bathroom, used the toilet, or whether he or she has fallen down.

In case of an emergency, the computer automatically alerts the chosen contact person or calls the care centre.

There are some mornings that I think I could use one of these already!

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