EU project uses IT to empower elderly to live independently

By Sam Collins
12:00 AM

Researchers in the EU-funded PERSONA (Perceptive spaces promoting independent aging) project are drawing on a range of advanced technologies to empower the elderly and support them in their efforts to maintain both their independence and a good quality of life.

More than six million euros of the project's 11.6 million euros budget comes from the Information Society Technologies Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). PERSONA began in 2007 and is scheduled to run until 2010.

The proportion of senior citizens in Europe's population is rising steadily, and by 2020 a quarter of this population will be over 65 years of age. Many of these people will suffer from health conditions and memory problems that could reduce their quality of life and make it harder for them to live independently.

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The concept of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) refers to the range of technologies and services, particularly those based on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), that can be used to help the elderly remain independent and maintain a good quality of life.

The aim of the PERSONA project is to further the development of AAL products and services that are affordable, easy to use and commercially viable. Crucially, the project partners are developing an integrated technological platform that seamlessly links up the different products and services. Furthermore, the team is working on certain hardware developments, such as intelligent textiles for use in devices that interact with the users, short-range communication networks to link up sensors and systems, and an indoor localisation system.

"Our aim is to help the user[s] to be autonomous, to increase their self confidence and [to] increase their participation in society," said Siri Bjorvig of the Norwegian Centre for Telemedicine, one of the project partners.

With this in mind, the partners are focusing their efforts on four scenarios, which involve safety, mobility, communication and autonomy.

As its name suggests, the "feel safe" scenario looks at AAL services designed to prevent injuries in the home environment; this gives users the confidence to live without the constant presence of a carer. If someone living alone has an accident or collapses, there are AAL solutions that can detect the problem and alert a neighbour or the health services, for example.

Similarly, the system could alert the users if they forget to switch off the oven.

The mobility scenario investigates how senior citizens can be supported when they leave their homes, with the help of a mobile device that reminds them of errands they have to run, for example.

The "keep in touch" scenario places emphasis on preventing isolation and loneliness, by providing users with ICT tools to help them create and maintain social contacts and participate in community life.

Finally, the "be autonomous" package is designed to assist the users throughout the day, providing guidance on daily activities to boost independence and autonomy while minimising risks. For instance, the system could remind users to take medication at a certain time.

The technologies developed by PERSONA are set to undergo tests at three sites in Denmark, Spain and Italy.

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