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Using technology so that seniors can continue to live at home

What if technology could be used to enable seniors with reduced autonomy to live at home for as long as possible? That is just what Nathalie Bier, an occupational therapist from Université de Montréal, set out to do in 2016. With today’s labour shortage and high demand for home care support and services, Bier’s research project could well bear fruit.

The idea is simple: install practical, easy-to-use devices in the homes of seniors with reduced autonomy to help them with their daily lives. These devices could include voice-command systems to turn the lights off at bedtime or alerts when the stove has been on for too long. Sensors in the bathroom and bedroom could also collect data on sleep patterns and hygiene habits. For instance, the sensors could calculate an individual’s water consumption and inform particular people that the individual has not taken a shower in X number of days. This technology is efficient, and it would both increase the senior’s autonomy and reduce the number of times care providers are sent to the home.

These technological systems do not include microphones or cameras, but the data collected by the sensors would help make assumptions about whether or not the senior is following their routine. The occupational therapist and researcher at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal and the CIUSSS du Centre Sud de l’Île de Montréal (the Montréal West Island Integrated Health and Social Services Centre) asked the Université de Sherbrooke DOMUS laboratory and the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi LIARA laboratory for their expertise in home automation and artificial intelligence.

Living at home is still the number one choice for the vast majority of seniors. Mild cognitive impairments, however, can often undermine their choice because of resource limitations or for security reasons. When seniors move into a seniors residence or a long term care centre it often speeds up the deterioration in their health, as they lose many of their points of reference late in their lives. This technology could be a good, cost-effective solution not only for seniors living at home but also for those living in facilities, because staff are not always available 24 hours a day.

The technology developed by Nathalie Bier and her team is currently being put to the test by seniors. There are still many avenues to explore in terms of technology in the home. Whether funding will follow remains to be seen.

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