Technologies for Aging Gracefully

>>Jutta Treviranus: Our next speaker is Ron Baecker. He is the director of Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab that is part of the Inclusive Design Institute [and] he is an adjunct within the Inclusive Design Institute as well. He is an ACM fellow and has been named — and there are many other accomplishments. And Ron, if you were there in the IDI launch, was showing TAGlab and he is going to talk a bit more about technologies for aging gracefully — this is one of the disruptive influences in our society today.

I’m just going to test the sound level for a second.

>> Okay. Thank you very much, Jutta. It is an honour to speak to this audience. And I want to start by giving huge thanks to the creative students and staff from my Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab. The TAG team we call ourselves.

I will speak today about problems and opportunities and possibly solutions.

The good news is that we are living much longer. The U.N. data is particularly striking. Seniors constituting 5% of the world’s population in 1950 projected to grow to 32%. 32% in the year 2300. That is if the world lasts to 2300.

The bad news is we must contend with a variety of sensory, motor, cognitive and social challenges if these extra years are to be happy and fulfilling one us.

Research on inclusive design [is] essential for seniors. But there is a lot of other work. Most researchers who come from computer science working on these issues come from the disciplines of artificial intelligence and ubiquitous computing. They seek to create machines, sometimes tiny chips and cameras in the walls that watch over you. And detect and sound the alarm when there are problems.

We have another approach. We seek to make senior citizens and their families smarter, more resourceful and more resilient, more creative and autonomous.

Our method is envision design, test, improve and where possible commercialize new technologies that respond to a diverse set of human needs. We build prostheses that help individuals compensate for sensory, motor, cognitive and social challenges.

We seek to understand how such technologies can be used and rehabilitation. And an ultimate goal we are a long way away is for technology to keep us healthier longer for example by slowing down cognitive design.

We approach the challenges by focusing on 3 major themes: identity, autonomy and family community.

These themes may be understood in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs: From the lowest level we all need oxygen, food and water. And we all need to feel safe and secure. Maslow’s third level says we cannot exist without love, affection and a sense of belong. Nor can we be whole without meaningful, without satisfaction and a feeling of esteem. And at the top we need a reason to be.

>> Our emphasis [is] on the upper three levels of the hierarchy. The need for love, we focus on strengthening bonds to family and friends.

The need for esteem where we help— we work on helping people speak and read. And the need for self‑actualization, meaning and fulfillment, where we focus on the preservation of identity for individuals with dementia.

At Maslow’s lowest level there is much activity elsewhere in helping people preserve their health: websites with hopefully reliable medical information — you see an example on the upper left —; social media for sharing health experiences with individuals throughout the world, new device[s] such as the Wii that you see on the bottom to encourage seniors to exercise; and medical instruments such as the Fitbit that you see on the right to monitor physical activity.

There are also exciting advances to make us more secure with Maslow’s second level: technology that monitors electrical and fluid flow in the home that you see illustrated on the right — the work [of] the brilliant scientist Patel at the University of Washington, technology that monitors electrical and fluid flow in the home and detects irregularities as a warning sign that something may be wrong is now coming on the market.

Smart cameras this ceiling that notice falls are soon to be commercialized.

And there’s been promising research on video monitoring to detect wandering by people with dementia at Carnegie Mellon University that is illustrated on the upper left.

But demographic research in our interviews with seniors in vulnerable situations suggests that millions of Canadians are isolated and lonely.

This is an area of work that has the— where my motivation to do it has been influenced by personal experience. My sister had a 15 year battle with MS and finally succumbed to it a little over 2 years ago.

And I used to imagine in the last couple of years as I visited her in a rehab hospital near Philadelphia with her body literally shrinking in. The television that was blaring and she could not see it anymore and it didn’t make a difference to her I think because she could not understand it.

With the television blaring we interrupt this mindless drivel with a message from your son: “Hi mom, it’s Neil. Went golfing yesterday, shot a 92. Going to see the Mets tomorrow night.”

So that vision influenced our work on digital communicating picture frames. The work is for seniors who live alone.

Not all seniors who live alone are lonely and isolated but many are.

Individuals in long‑term care or long‑term hospitalization, 7‑24 home bound caregivers. People who have chronic pain or MS or ALS. Hundreds of millions of people in the world.

Our current solution is to develop devices for the home that address the problems of isolation.

They must not look like computers. They allow a person to touch the frame and send a request for contact and then touch it again minutes or hours later when for example a grandchild has recorded a video message for transmission to the frame.

Let’s look at version two of the Families in Touch eFrame in action.

And on the upper left you see version one which was actually done as an undergraduate thesis by Elaine Macaranas here at OCAD.

>> So back at grandpa’s. And then a little later another message.

>> Hundred of millions of people have trouble speaking due to an inability to retrieve the words they need or due to difficulties in articulating them. Many are seniors who have had strokes and have developed aphasia. Other are children with autism spectrum disorder or other communication challenges.

MyVoice is a project begun in TAGlab.

An app on iPhones, Android phones and iPads provides and speaks words by a traditional semantic categories or by what we call locabularies.

And movie-relevant vocabulary when it notices you are in front of a movie theatre. Let’s look at the interface in a recent clip from City TV. [not able to hear video]

>> What the human brain cannot express, the iPhone can.

The MyVoice app is giving voice to the voiceless. It is the brain child of the University of Toronto students. Common words and phrases can be programmed into the app.

And these are very expressive voices. They can do things like laugh, cough; the second way that they can use it is take the words and phrases and associate them with physical places.

Getting started is very simple. Just input the address of the location you frequent regularly and once you find the location you can start inputting the phrases you would use there. Geolocation technologies when you are close by and automatically call up the vocabulary you use.

>> Please withdraw $40.

>> What are your thoughts on this idea?

>> The addition of GPS is brilliant.

>> For Bill Scott MyVoice has meant freedom and confidence.

It is really socially acceptable. A lot of people have iPhones.

It is like your own tourist. Before MyVoice, Bill lugged around this heavy briefcase with maps and illustrated books just to communicate.

>> You basically went from this to this?

>> Yes.

>> And the change has made life a lot sweeter. Future versions of the software will automatically populate the list for users based on where they are in the city, basically doing half the work for them.

>> Our in connection project addresses challenges in reading as there are billions of people in the world who have trouble reading. Some persons cannot see well enough. Others cannot hold a book or turn the pages. Others cannot understand the words.

Our accessible Large-print Listening and Talking ebook[s] project addresses these challenges and also provides ways in which social support from family and friends can encourage and support reading.

ALLT is a an app that helps people read by themselves. Like an electronic large‑print book, type can be enlarged for individuals whose vision is poor.

It can also be shown on a high def display or a TV for family viewing.

Like books on tape, the text is read out loud for people.

It’s synthesizing the voice. It is acceptable for people with challenges like MS and Parkinsons. It can be controlled by the mobile keyboard or a connected keyboard that also provides a stand for the iPad.

ALLT can also access a million books via the Internet Archives. So let’s pick the category, children’s literature English and you find Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Family members with read books aloud to all the users. Readings are recorded and later used by the user. [reading book]

Our last project focuses on the continued assault on identity by dementia as it gets more severe. Alzheimer disease makes it harder and harder for individuals to remember and reexperience what their life was once like.

There will be a hundred million such individuals in the world by the mid‑point of the century. We developed an effective method to create multimedia biographies of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and studied how viewing the digital life histories affected people with AD and MCI and close family members. Let’s look at two examples.

>> Capetown I lived there.

>> Yeah, you did.

>> So she not only remembers names and places but feelings. It was very good to live there.

But the real power of the technique comes in viewing this together for example with family members. In this case you will hear Mrs. Z’s daughter as narrator of the story of her mom as well as the person interacting and viewing it with her. [singing]

One unexpected thing we discovered in the two cases of 12 people we studied of people that lived in long‑term care facilities is viewing the video by care staff made a huge different because all of a sudden they really understood something about the people they were taking care of.

But our work has just begun. We will test our digital picture frames in people’s home this summer and are working on being to deploy them in institutional settings.

We are also looking at new methods of control that might be useful in hospital setting such as the Microsoft Kinect.

The MyVoice team is hard at the and we are building the mobile app that we call VocabNomad to help people with English as a second language challenges.

Our ALLT team is tackling speech recognition so it can as much as possible understand its users. And we’re beginning work on cognitive challenges in reading.

And new avenues for future work bring many moments of joy to them and occasional moments of sadness and strength and communication with and bonds to family and caregivers.

We continue to learn from the wonderful and courageous people who try and test our inventions.

It is not just about cognition which is what we started working on some time ago, but about communication and identity and self‑worth.

It is not simply building prosthetics for individuals, it is about building systems for support and rehabilitation and growth for older adults and their families.

There are many challenges, testing and improving these technologies not in a laboratory with university sophomores but at homes and hospitals and long‑term care facilities with real senior citizens is very difficult. Yet it is immensely rewarding because our success as designs rests in part on how well we do this and how sensitively we observe. And the payoff, although few of us can be — we can enable billions of seniors to have a few extra years or a decade or two of productive and fulfilling activities.

This can make a huge difference to the quality of the society in which we all live and to bring it back to the theme of this convention our design for the diverse of older adults will reap rewards for others who face challenges to full participation in society.

Thank you for your attention. I hope there is time for a couple of questions now. I’ll be around all day today and happy to engage in discussion with you. Thank you.

>>Jutta Treviranus: We do have time for one or two questions.

>> Yes, right here. Thank you very much for a very exciting serious of demonstrations. Terrific.

>> Thank you. I have one and we see a lot of terrific innovations coming out of universities like the one you are showing. And yet many people in the world are unaware of those and it is a difficulty to get those innovations to market or end users or to caretakers.

And we can go and let people use it or you can go through more commercial channels with more [inaudible] so I wanted to ask you, the question is, what is the best way to liberate your innovations in the terms of reaching out to as many users as possible?

>> I could speak for many minutes on that question. Suffice it to say that there is no best method, there are going to be different projects that are most appropriate for a proprietary model. There are going to be some that work well with open source. We have tried both this the four companies that have spun out of my lab over the last 35 years. The good news in Canada is that the government is very keen — both levels of government are very keen to encourage research turned into— to turn into commercial products. The bad news is that they are such a rush to do this that in fact we sometimes kind of tripping our own feet because we’re encouraged for funding purposes to try and commercialize prematurely. So there is a real need for the society and government and the universities to mature in having the right mix tour of long‑term research, medium research and commercialization and finding ways for universities and large existing companies and new start‑up companies to work together.

So you have put your finger on a very difficult problem.

>>Jutta Treviranus: Yes.

>> In watching all of this I’m wondering if it’s an application that could be applied to the employment world and to people with disables. You are focusing on senior citizens but are there other applications and are you exploring that?

>> That is a very good question. We are not exploring that now in our lab. But it might be some of the work in Jutta’s lab is more directed relevant to that.

We have picked a set of problems for complex reasons and in fact we’re doing too much. And we need to focus a little more.

So I can’t say that we’re likely to do this in the each future. But I think it’s very important that it be done.

>> I was just wondering in terms of that voice path, if it was all Internet based in terms of— for example if you arrived at the bank and requested that information, is it wireless connectivity, and [if] so then what are the implications for confidentiality?

>> Everything the with encrypted so that deals with the issues of confidentiality. Mobile apps are big enough so that you can have all of the data you needed urine mobile app as well. But the system is designed for direct interaction with servers at place through 3G or wireless.

>>Jutta Treviranus: Thank you, Ron. And we’ll continue this discussion during our sessions.


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