How tech advances eldercare and a better life in our senior years

By Michael Martinez and Lori Cameron
Published 10/14/2017
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As aging betrays us, technology increasingly intervenes, especially with the eldercare of family.

On several fronts, tech now helps us care for loved ones in their senior years, whether to ensure their safety or their ability for independent living.

Here’s how researchers are trying to advance our quality of life as more and more of us plan to live until our 90s and, why not, to 100 or more, according to recent studies culled from the Computer Society Digital Library. (Abstracts are free; full-length research requires a log-on.)

There’s an app for eldercare, too

Among the biggest perils of independent living as a senior is falling — without anyone around to help.

Another logistical concern are visits to a physical therapist or other health care provider who’s monitoring your well-being.

It’s an anxiety shared, too, by family who want the best for grandparents.

Researchers are now developing smartphone apps that would connect physical therapists in far-flung locations with their elderly patients.

The idea is to allow care providers the ability to remotely monitor an elderly person’s gait and physical health status and then allow them to remotely intervene and provide therapies to the elderly person so that he or she can overcome any risk of falling.

Design of interface for an eldercare app
This screenshot provides the physical therapist view of an interactive interface (left side shows the patient, right side shows the therapist). The right side top alignment parameters are informed by depth sensor data, and exercise activities are administered using voice commands.

The technology is also designed to provide eldercare in rural and suburban areas where travel times to a medical office can be burdensome, according to University of Missouri-Columbia scientists who wrote a study entitled “Toward an ElderCare Living Lab for Sensor-Based Health Assessment and Physical Therapy” in Cloud Computing magazine.

Their article presents a design for an “ElderCare-as-a-SmartService” (ECaaS) system that integrates apps for in-home health monitoring and remote physical therapy coaching.

“The focus is on the transformation of the Apps into a cloud-based living lab, which then enables on-going App development/refinement to realize a real-world enhanced living environment for eldercare that is secure, privacy-preserving and socially embedded,” the authors write.

“With emerging digital technology and multisensor techniques, new approaches for ongoing health assessment are emerging to realize enhanced living environments (ELEs) for eldercare. While older adults stay in the home of their choice, in-home sensors can be used to monitor older adults’ activity patterns; smart algorithms recognize changes in the patterns and send health alerts to care coordinators to flag potential health changes and administer targeted coaching,” the authors write. “Our ECaaS design has the potential to improve quality of life for older adults and their care coordinators through pertinent social embedding of apps within ELEs for eldercare.”

Read “ElderCare-as-a-SmartService” (login may be required).

Using a smartphone to detect falls

Falling is an unpleasant experience by any measure.

Now, mobile phones and artificial neural networks (ANNs) may help detect when an elderly person falls because many smartphones carry accelerometers inside them, and they are not so inconvenient for elder to carry it, writes computer scientists Marcelo Vidigal and Mario Lima, both of State University of Maranhão in Brazil and Areolino de Almeida Neto of the Federal University of Maranhão in Brazil.

Artificial neural network structure
Example of a basic structure of an artificial neural network.

The researchers examined the error rates of such mobile phone uses.

The authors found encouraging positive results and urged further study. The potential benefits could reduce emergency room visits.

Read “Elder Falls Detection Based on Artificial Neural Networks” research here.

Caring for the spine

Researchers in Taiwan have developed a continuous spine care service model called iBrace that monitors a patient’s back with pressure sensors, Blue Low Energy (BLE), and an app with a cloud platform.

The model is designed to help treat osteoporosis, a common bone disease in the elderly, which often causes back pain.

Researchers collaborated with the Mackay Memorial Hospital Hsinchu Branch.

iBrace spine care technology
The system architecture of iBrace, which monitors a patient’s back with pressure sensors, Blue Low Energy (BLE), and an app with a cloud platform.

“The pilot study still needs the clinical trial in the future to verify the service model and system. However, the new smart phone environment and BLE technology make the ubiquitous spine care possible and it reduce the back pain troubles to improve the life quality of elderly much,” wrote the Taiwanese researchers. They were Mei-Ju Su, I-Ling Chen, Heng-Shuen Chen, Chih-Ting Cheng, and Yaw-Jen Lin.

Read “Continuous Spine Care Service for the Elderly” research here

Long-term care app

video of patient care
Video of patient care.

Elderly persons and their families can use a mobile device app to check their health portfolio and instructions for care, under another model developed by Taiwanese researchers.

The health portfolio on the Long-Term Care information system includes rehabilitation times, daily routine records, and physiological information.

The app offers visual and audible reminders on care instructions, and the care-staff and their families can use the app or a desktop computer to login into the cloud system to understand videos of patient’s instructions activities. Videos also immediately show in real-time the patient’s ongoing activities and the user can watch the patient’s motion.

Read “Using mobile application for Long-Term Care system” research here


Read more about eldercare in the Computer Society Digital Library (login may be required):

  1. Design of elder-friendly auditory signals for microwave ovens
  2. Using pervasive computing to deliver elder care
  3. A Bluetooth-Based Device-Free Motion Detector for a Remote Elder Care Support System
  4. Balancing Priorities: A Field Study of Coordination in Distributed Elder Care
  5. Stroke Prediction Context-Aware Health Care System


Michael Martinez


About Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez, the editor of the Computer Society’s Computer.Org website and its social media, has covered technology as well as global events while on the staff at CNN, Tribune Co. (based at the Los Angeles Times), and the Washington Post. He welcomes email feedback, and you can also follow him on LinkedIn.


About Lori Cameron

Lori Cameron is a Senior Writer for the IEEE Computer Society and currently writes regular features for Computer magazine, Computing Edge, and the Computing Now and Magazine Roundup websites. Contact her at Follow her on LinkedIn.