PORTLAND, Ore. Intel Corp. thinks it has the solution to "aging-in-place," that is seniors who despite their increasing health problems such as Alzheimer's choose to stay at home. Intel is designing a plugged-in home in cooperation with the Alzheimer's Association in an effort called the Everyday Technologies for Alzheimer Care (ETAC) consortium.
"We are beginning a new era of medical applications at home, not only for Alzheimer's but for a variety of conditions related to aging. We are very excited about this prototype project on Alzhheimer's, because we hope to use it as a model for treating related maladies in the future," said Bill Thies, vice president, medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association.
According to Thies, as seniors in the U.S. population age, the number of retirees will increase to one in three Americans by mid-century. The bottom line is that the fastest growing age groups in the 21st century--namely, seniors above 80--will overflow the available senior-care centers and bankrupt the health insurance industry unless something is done to head off the demographic tide.
That something, according to Intel and the Alzheimer's Association, is care at home assisted by technology that monitors the senior's daily activities, offering assistance one a task-by-task basis while logging those activities and the senior's medical condition so that remote care providers can monitor them.
"We just completed a study of 50 Alzheimer's patients daily activities at home. From this and other studies we have discovered a large number of everyday technologies for Alzheimer's care," said Eric Dishman, manager of Intel's proactive health research efforts.
The ETAC consortium effort will begin its work with $1 million in seed funding to research new models of Alzheimer care based on computing and communications technologies. Besides Intel, the ETAC consortium plans to begin accepting proposals from other research groups interesting in contributing to their efforts.
"We see our efforts as akin to the Manhattan Project. We want to bring people from all different fields and build a consortium to solve the problems for whole cycle of Alzheimer's," said Zaven Khachaturian, senior science adviser to the Alzheimer's Association.
For several years, Intel has separately pursued at-home technology, with informal help from the Alzheimer's Association. ETAC marks a formalization of the effort and enlists the help of the rest of the industry and medical communities. In 2002, Intel funded over 400 such independent research projects in labs outside its main R&D centers.
"Our research has found that seniors often need very simple assistance at first, just to remind them of a steps they need to take to perform everyday tasks, such as reminding them, step-by-step, of the process of, say, making tea," said Intel's Dishman.
"We want to invent devices that will enhance forgetfullness, just as reading glasses enhance a seniors failing sight, and a hearing aid enhances their ears," said Dishman.