February 23, 2011

Japanese Company Developing Elderly Wristwatch Technology

Japan's top telecoms company is developing a wristwatch-like device to monitor the well-being of the elderly, which is part of a growing effort to improve care of the old in a nation whose population is aging faster than any other place in the world.

The device measures the pace and directions of hand movements to discern what wearers are doing.

In a demonstration at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.'s (NTT) research facility, the test subject's movements were collected as data that popped up as lines on a graph.  This technology can show what an elderly person is doing during each hour of the day on a chart.

Researchers said such data could also be relayed by wireless or stored in a memory card to be looked at later.

Plans for commercial use are still undecided, but similar sensors are being tested around the world as tools for elderly care.

The Institute on Aging at the University of Virginia has been carrying out studies in practical applications of what it calls "body area sensor networks" to promote senior independent living.

According to the institute, what is important is that wearable sensors need to be easy to use, unobtrusive, ergonomic and even stylish.

NTT President Satoshi Miura said Japan is likely falling behind global rivals in promoting practical uses, despite the potential for such technology in the nation.
Over 90 percent of Japan's households are equipped with either optic fibers or fast-speed mobile connections.

"But how to use the technology is the other side of the story," Miura said in a presentation. "We will do our best in the private sector, but I hope the government will help."

Nintendo Co.'s Wii game-console remote-controller is one exception of such sensors becoming a huge business success. 

George Demiris, associate professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Washington says technology for the elderly is complex, requiring more than just coming up with sophisticated technology.

He told the Associated Press (AP) that getting too much data could simply burden already overworked health care professionals, and overly relying on technology could even make the elderly miserable, reducing opportunities for them to interact with real people.

"Having more data alone does not mean we will have better care for older adults," Demiris said in an e-mail to AP's Yuri KageYama.

"We can have the most sophisticated technology in place, but if the response at the other end is not designed to address what the data show in a timely and efficient way, the technology itself is not useful," he said.


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