Dr. Alex Mihailidis is scientific director of Canadian research network, AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE). And what exactly does AGE-WELL stand for?
Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life.
It’s this aging-in-place concept that drives the biomedical engineer’s day-to-day work, but it was a far more personal experience that led him to pursue these innovations in the first place.
Mihailidis became interested in aging-in-place when he met a man providing in home care to his wife, who had moderate dementia. The man shared with Mihailidis the issues and difficulties associated with taking care of his wife in the comforts of their home.
“His story moved me very much, and during that conversation he wondered if computers could help with the task of providing care to a senior at home. That intrigued me and was what I started to look at in my graduate work,” says Mihailidis.
Technology and Age
As it turns out—based upon the tireless research and development of individuals such as Mihailidis, in areas of both Canada and the United States—technology can play a significant role in home health care, especially for seniors.
Mihailidis says new home technologies can play a substantial role in providing support to seniors in ways that “we never could have imagined in the past.” He describes new systems that can monitor activity levels using sensors and help ensure that seniors are living as safely and independently as possible.
“We can now use such systems to not only monitor the status of our homes but also whether or not seniors are eating properly, sleeping well, getting out of the house, etc.,” says Mihailidis. “These are all important factors when determining a person’s overall health and wellness.”
Tech, Tests and Partnerships
AGE-WELL is working on a variety of technologies in this realm, ranging from smart home systems to robotics. It has projects exploring how robotics can be used in a smart home system to provide support and care for seniors, as well as simpler technologies such as information systems and apps.
These technologies are tested through a variety of methods and approaches, but Mihailidis stresses that it is key that these innovations are tested in “real world” settings.
AGE-WELL technologies go through several layers of testing, one of which occurs at “HomeLab” – a fully simulated house within a hospital, located at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, AGE-WELL’s host institution.
“Such a space allows researchers to install a technology and test it, with actual seniors, in a controlled environment before launching it in the real world,” says Mihailidis.
Also important within AGE-WELL is their partnerships, which include private and public companies, government bodies, care providers, older adults and academic partners.
“Partners are involved from the earliest stages of research projects and often take part in field testing of new approaches,” says Mihailidis, who adds that while AGE-WELL works directly with aging-in-place specialists, it has “yet though to fully engage builders and other professionals who are developing new communities and housing.”
The Future of Aging
Expanding these partnerships as technologies evolve will be key for AGE-WELL, which aspires to be at the “forefront of such innovations.” Mihailidis sees the future of aging-in-place falling into three main categories—smart homes, robotics and big data, all of which have shown great promise.
In particular, big data has the potential to play a significant role. Via information collected within the home using sensors, AGE-WELL and others can begin to develop very accurate models of a senior’s health and wellness.
“In fact, research has shown that such data can actually be used to predict a variety of health conditions, such as the onset of cognitive impairment,” says Mihailidis.
Entities such as AGE-WELL prove that aging-in-place not only has a promising future, but a necessary one. Scientists, caregivers and builders alike should all be paying attention.
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