WASHINGTON – One day, people with Alzheimer's disease could have telephones that show them a picture of the caller and remind them who it is and when they last talked.
They might walk across a floor with sensors that check their gait and sound an alarm if they fall. Others might relax on a bed that monitors their pulse and breathing.
New technologies for seniors, supplementing conveniences like The Clapper and emergency warnings like Life Alert, are on display this week at the White House Conference on Aging.
The goal is to provide technologies that "help seniors and their families live happy and healthy in their own home," said Eric Dishman, chairman of the Center for Aging Services Technologies, or CAST, and general manager and global director of Intel Health Research and Innovation Group.
"Technology already has transformed our lives from e-mail to MP3s and from online shopping to cell phones. Now, it's time for technology to transform the experience of aging," said Russell Bodoff, executive director of CAST.
His organization, which put together the technology exhibition, brings together 400 businesses, groups, universities and others working to find new ways to improve life for older people.
There are four main focus areas for the new innovations, Dishman said: disease prevention, early detection, caregiver support and maintaining independence.
Take Intel's phone for those with early and developing cases of memory-wasting Alzheimer's.
A screen like that of a computer monitor sits next to the phone. No more embarrassing pauses while the person getting the call tries to remember who Christine is. Using caller ID technology, the screen can provide a photo of the caller, tell who they are and when they last talked.
Health Watch has a medicine cabinet that can be programmed to keep track of what medicine it holds and when it should be taken.
A built-on camera scans the face of the person at the cabinet and a voice can remind that it's time to take a pill. If the wrong bottle is chosen, the voice warns of the error.
Congress is very concerned about medical errors in hospitals, Dishman said, but most occur at home.
The medicine cabinet even has a blood pressure cuff and is connected to a scale, so it can collect weight and pressure data and e-mail the information to a physician or caregiver.
Floor sensors developed by the Medical Automation Research Center at the University of Virginia track the movement of a senior. They can recognize changes in gait and detect a fall and call a caregiver for help. Virginia's team also developed the bed that senses breathing rate and pulse and, again, can call a caregiver for help if there is a sudden change.
Recognizing that people of all ages like to play games, the Oregon Health Sciences University has developed video games that track the dexterity and speed of the person playing them over time. Changes that can indicate neurological diseases are recorded and can help doctors recognize patterns they wouldn't be able to notice in an occasional office visit.
A watch and computer system developed by Intel tracks the movement of people in their homes. If they fail to go to their pills it can broadcast to a computer to provide reminders.
The owner can choose how to be reminded. A notice, "Agnes, it's time for your pill," can appear on the television screen, for example, or the phone can ring and send a reminder either with a voice or text message.
Philips Medical has developed the Motiva Channel, a service for broadband computers that can be displayed on a screen as a personal assistant and motivator for the individual. Motiva can provide personal reminders and messages, suggest healthy activities and foods and allow the user to consult with a nurse regularly from home.
There's even a robot developed by Intouch Health for use in hospitals and assisted-care centers. If a patient falls in the middle of the night, for example, the robot can go to the scene with caregivers and broadcast back to a doctor located elsewhere, who can advise how to assist the person.
And Medic Alert, best known for bracelets that warn of allergies or medical problems, now has a computerized flash card that can attach to a key ring and provide access to a person's medical history. A doctor or emergency room can simply plug it into any computer to check the person's health record.