As life expectancy has doubled in the past decades, an unprecedented number of people are reaching their 80’s and 90’s, triggering a vast increase in the ranks of the elderly in countries around the world. Their need for protection and comfort are expected to multiply. How does technology help? And more specifically: how can location technologies contribute?
Many of the elderly remain active and in good health well into old age. They are the ones who will insist in “aging in place”, living in their own homes, fully engaged with family, friends and their communities. Others are not so lucky, affected by age-related conditions demanding specialized care beyond medical interventions.
Caring for relatives and friends can be tough. Preserving the dignity and independence of the cared for is paramount, often balanced against the anxiety of family and friends who need to know that their loved ones are doing well and are out of harm’s way. Are they taking their prescriptions? Do they maintain their normal activity? Are they at risk of falls? Do they suffer from vision impairment? Are they dealing with cognition ailments? Have they become confused or disoriented? Are they putting themselves in danger?
Fortunately, a vast and growing network of technologists has risen to the challenge.
A myriad of products and systems that assist both, caregivers and those cared-for have entered the market in recent years. Organizations like Aging 2.0 sponsor international searches for innovative products to address a variety of needs, pitched by startups as well as established companies. The result is a vibrant multi-billion dollar market.
As expected, location technology often plays an important role, enabling key applications. Some examples:
Many devices available in the market today enable obtaining a person’s location in real-time. Wearables in form factors such as watches, pendants, badges, tags, smartcards and bracelets that may be worn on the wrist or ankle, on a lanyard around the neck, or attached to clothing. There are also trackers available as shoe insoles or walking sticks.
Tracking devices make possible for relatives and caregivers at residential facilities to locate their charges using mobile apps and/or online portals. Portals and sometimes a response center (“concierge”) and even an emergency response team may be available for a monthly fee.
Some tracking devices sport pushbuttons, enabling the wearer to request assistance. Others provide two-way communication with the response center. Most tracking devices rely on cell phone technology for data transfer and voice communication, when provided.
Services bundled with most tracking devices usually provide geofencing, which enables the definition of a virtual perimeter around an area. Registered devices entering or exiting the geofenced area may trigger alerts. This can be a life saver when caring for patients with dementia or a cognitive impairment, whose elopement may endanger them and others.
When those cared for drive their own automobiles, it is sometimes prudent to install a tracking device on the car. This may enable tracking in a much wider area, even if personal trackers’ batteries run out. These tracking devices tend to be larger, with more powerful radios that can report if the vehicle is in motion or not, and sometimes communicate additional ambient data, such as inside temperature, which may be crucial in very cold or very hot climates.
Sometimes, it is essential to monitor the activities of a person cared for, to be assured that they follow their daily routines, they move about in familiar, predictable patterns and that they are not inactive for extended periods of time without reason, or up and about in the middle of the night or at odd hours during the day. Unusual behavior may prompt a call “to check in” and make sure that everything is under control.
Monitoring systems usually collect data about a user’s behavior over a period of time, learning to recognize normal behaviors and flag with an alert examples of unusual behavior.
Naturally, these systems trigger ethical, emotional and practical problems when they are in place. The person cared for has to opt in to the notion of being monitored. The monitoring system should be unobtrusive, and the caregivers must be extremely tactful in dealing with possible anomalies, as their intervention can be life-saving while simultaneously invasive and annoying.
Navigation for the visually impaired
Though not confined to the elderly, loss of vision often is a major challenge to quality-of-life for many people. Those affected by acute loss of sight can be aided by voice driven systems. Those systems can determine their location, and using voice-driven search, they can guide users, when complemented by step-by-step voice guidance features to navigate unfamiliar environments.
Over the years, a number of R&D projects have been developed, embedding mobile devices into walking canes to provide the needed functions in a convenient package that is unlikely to be accidentally left behind.
Leveraging location technologies
Innovation has sprung up, bringing to market a range of products to tackle the challenges experienced by a growing elderly population. Many of these products already take advantage of location technologies, notably GPS, and in a few cases, cell-ID-based geolocation to facilitate positioning, tracking, monitoring and to enable geofencing at a city level.
What can be added to the list of current solutions? Several features that Accuware provides: most notably positioning in areas where GPS does not work, such as GPS-denied urban canyons and, of course, locating indoors with good practical accuracy. Some examples:
Tracking in “urban canyons”
As we know, positioning by GPS requires an open, unobstructed view of the sky. In a large city, full of skyscrapers, the location scenario quickly breaks down, as GPS satellite signals bounce off buildings and make it impossible to get a position with an acceptable level of accuracy. A good alternative is using the known location of cell phone towers (cell-IDs) and of Wi-Fi access points to pinpoint one’s location with accuracy of about 30 feet/10 meters –and frequently much better.
For additional information, see global tracking under Accuware Wearabouts.
The ability to locate “indoors”, that is, using a reference system other than GPS to determine location inside buildings and underground, is a welcome development for healthcare institutions set up in sprawling campuses. GPS is simply unavailable there.
Having the ability to locate and track with high accuracy doctors, nurses, and of course, tracking the location of patients at a nursing home or a large hospital is essential for safety and for efficient operation. For example, learning that a patient under medication, confused and disoriented, walked into a closet is not atypical. Alerting nurses to prevent a lost patient from leaving the safety of a nursing home’s premises is not uncommon. Prevention is achieved combining indoor location and a geofence.
In a home setting, floor-and-room locating accuracy enables monitoring an individual’s behavior to calm caregivers’ anxiety about those aging in place.
For additional information, see indoor tracking under Accuware Wearabouts.
Tracking everywhere: indoors and outdoors
In some cases, it is useful to track a user’s movements both outdoors and also in specific indoor settings, such as the apartment building they live in. The ability to provide citywide tracking (and beyond) with accurate indoor tracking in a single product, opens up the door to new end-to-end solutions unavailable with just GPS.
Indoor navigation with sub-meter accuracy
Implementing navigation indoors, as would be possible for the visually impaired, requires a pretty tight accuracy to enable a useful turn-by-turn guidance in apartment buildings and hospital settings.
Accuware’s Indoor Navigation product can deliver sub-meter accuracy (better than 3 feet) by combining ambient signals and internal sensor data, if available in the mobile device.
For additional information, see Accuware Indoor Navigation.
Floor-and-room-level accuracy – and better
It is important to highlight that all location estimations have a certain associated error. The larger the error, the lower the location accuracy. In many applications, tracking somebody’s whereabouts in an urban environment can have an error of 1/2 a city block and often higher. In indoor environments (ex. an assisted living facility or a nursing home), an accuracy of 2-3 meters/6-10 feet is usually acceptable.
Accuware products for indoor tracking have an accuracy of between 2 and 5 meters / 6 to 15 feet. Indoor navigation often provides sub-meter accuracy. Applications requiring even higher accuracy may use Wearabouts visual location option that delivers accuracy up to 4 inches.
For additional information, see Accuware Wearabouts and Accuware Indoor Navigation.
What about proximity?
Applications that use proximity rely on detecting the presence of a mobile device near a point of interest. The definition of “near” is flexible. But it always relies on either measuring the strength of signals emitted by the device, or the device’s perceived strength of a beacon’s signal. In either case, proximity applications can do things like unlocking doors, “checking in”, triggering alerts (when no proximity is detected), or simply acknowledging that the person carrying the device is safely home.
Accuware products such as Wearabouts can use a device’s position coordinates to determine whether it is “near” a point of interest. In some cases, using WiFi Tags with Wi-Fi Location Monitor can be used to determine whether a tag is near by detecting its presence.
Location support on multiple devices
Accuware products support many devices. The list includes Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, as well as Accuware’s Combo Tags (for indoor and global tracking), Smart Tags (for indoor tracking), and custom devices that can be programmed to access Accuware’s API.
Note that supported devices may or may not have screens and communication capabilities. What matters is their ability to scan for WiFi and/or Bluetooth signals (BLE) and/or to use an on-board camera to take snapshots of their environment.
The background story
Accuware specializes in location technology. Our products and services have been integrated into complex location-aware systems that deliver positioning, tracking, navigation, proximity and geofencing in many industries, including healthcare, retail, museums, event marketing, architecture and hospitality among others.
By providing a range of products that leverage multiple location technologies, Accuware offers an extensive set of easy-to-deploy and integrate building blocks for many location-based applications.
Accuware’s sales and support global presence makes us an ideal technology partner for solution providers in several key and expanding fields. For additional information, visit our website at Accuware.com. Inquiries are welcome.