Elderly technology that helps seniors live safer and healthier lives

From an automated pain detection system to an app that can help you find people with dementia who walk away, the future of care for the elderly could be high technology.

A long-standing technical conference at Regina's Wascana Rehab, Wednesday and Thursday, brought together researchers from across Canada to demonstrate new technologies.

Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, director of the Center for the Aging and Health of Regina University, said he believes that solutions to diseases of old age, such as dementia, will come more from engineering and technological development than from the health sciences.

"Right now I don't think we are close to finding a cure for dementia and Alzheimer's disease, but we have technologies that can help people extend the years of their life that are good years," said Hadjistavropoulos.

Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, director of the Center for the Aging and Health of the University of Regina, says he thinks that the future of care for the elderly is in engineering rather than health sciences. (Kirk Fraser / CBC)

A national organization called AGE-WELL Network hosted the event. The network is funded by the federal government and its mandate is to create technologies and services for the benefit of the elderly and caregivers.

"They are working with older adults to develop the technology," said Hadjistavropoulos.

"They are the ones who talk to us about the problems they are facing, we are proposing solutions to them and therefore we are changing the solutions based on the inputs they give us when the technology is developed".

We have technologies that can help people extend the years of their lives that are years of good quality.– Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, director of the Center for Aging and Health at the University of Regina

The automated pain detection system could help identify facial expressions in the elderly with dementia, helping caregivers know if they are suffering.

Another proven technology was intelligent lighting designed to prevent falls. The lights would allow people to see when they come out of bed at night, but they would not be so bright as to interfere with circadian rhythms.

Hadjistavropoulos said that these technologies work even if the elderly who use them are not technology experts.

"Some of our technologies, such as home sensor technologies to detect falls, are completely automated and require no use or involvement."

When you think of solutions to help us get older, you might think about pills and needles, but two events in Regina show how new technologies help people with pain, dementia, fall prevention and more. Lili Lui is an occupational therapist at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine of the University of Alberta and one of the presenters. 06:01

"Serious games"

One of the projects is an app that community volunteers can sign up to receive alerts on senior citizens who may have moved away.

"It is difficult to say when an elderly person is lost or in need of help because he looks like any citizen of the community," said Lili Lui, a presenter of the event and an occupational therapist from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.

Another project demonstrated at the event was what he called "serious games".

"We call them serious because there is a therapeutic value for these games".

For people with dementia, a digital version of whack-a-mole can give caregivers a better sense of how the elderly are doing based on their performance.

While many of the elders today may not feel comfortable with the technology, Liu said it will become more common with the arrival of the next generation of elders.

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