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IXYS-Zilog - VP of Marketing


Zilog® is a trusted supplier of application specific, embedded system-on-chip (SoC) solutions for the industrial and consumer markets. From its roots as an...

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The Future of 8-Bit Microcontrollers in In-Home Elderly Care

What is the right technology solution for a huge global need? Statistically speaking, our world faces a looming crisis that, while it doesn’t hit the headlines often, will eventually affect every single person on our planet, and in crucial ways. The crisis? Our aging population – and an avalanche of need that could likely fall upon the shoulders of us all.

Not enough money, nowhere near enough elderly care facilities, and a changing world that leaves many elderly people with nowhere to turn. These are the symptoms of a population of adults over age 65 that is growing at three times the rate of the population of family members that are available to care for them. Observing the growth rate of the world’s fast-aging population suggests that those who experience middle age in the year 2050 will be three times more likely than they are now to be responsible for the care of many of the projected two billion-plus elderly. These are stark numbers, and yet these numbers are increasing at an alarming rate; they suggest that many elderly will require some level of assistance but have no one around to help.

As we get older, several natural tendencies may occur: Folks are not as active as they once were; they may often be sedentary, sitting and reading or watching television more than they did before. These are not bad things, certainly, but we’ve already learned that prolonged periods without physical movement can result in insufficient exercise, which can subsequently lead to other types of health problems. Often, people become more forgetful as they age, and even forgetting simple things such as taking the medicine, feeding the cat, or even scheduling a grocery delivery can ultimately lead to a lack of independence.

8-Bit Microcontrollers in In-Home Elderly Care

8-Bit Microcontrollers in In-Home Elderly Care

In addition, it’s not unrealistic to predict that a large percentage of people will reach a point in which they will prefer to “age in place.” People who have worked all of their lives to own their home simply want to stay in it as long as possible. However, they will need a little help to remain independent – help that can also lighten the demand for costly services. That’s where new emerging technologies can play a meaningful role. Many people, as they age, are facing challenges that are completely new to them, and they will simply need a little technological help ensure that their healthcare needs are met.

So just what is the solution that can not only assist overburdened caregivers, but even allow the aged to remain longer in their own homes and stay independent at managing their own healthcare needs?

Imagine a smart 8-bit microcontroller that can enable people to live independently, for much longer, and without requiring additional support from the healthcare systems that are currently in place. Indeed, an MCU-controlled sensor installed in an aging parent’s home could detect patterns which, when they vary from the norm, could be set to alert a remote healthcare service to respond and/or intervene when needed. While privacy could be a concern in such a situation, safeguards could be built into such a monitoring system for assisted living in order to allow people to stay in their own homes longer.

Isn’t that a far better alternative than being uprooted and moved to a care facility where you may not feel as comfortable?

Let’s look at a set of microcontroller-based sensors which could cover a gamut of situational needs for folks desiring to continue living in their own homes. For example, the safe monitoring process mentioned above could allow a caregiver to “check in” and observe simple lifestyle patterns that would help to make determinations and suggestions for ensuring a person’s quality of life.

Having a smart, scalable “independent living network” in place can assist with many everyday tasks by providing reminders or warnings which can inform a person that, for example, the tea on the stove is boiling over. Getting a little reminder about that doctor’s appointment scheduled for this afternoon can lead to better personal healthcare management. Many of these “technical helpers” merely require a microcontroller to process information based on the function(s) for which they are designed. By design, these technical helpers can be interconnected to provide a platform solution that can assist elderly living, with the end result being a person’s self-determined path to stay independent far longer.

Tomorrow’s need is already on us today, yet 8-bit microcontrollers will play a far larger role than many now imagine. The actions we take today will be the ones we ourselves will live with tomorrow, through creative solutions that leverage smart MCUs. As a result, we will protect not only our aging loved ones who can then enjoy a better quality of life, but we will also creatively leverage those wonderful microcontrollers so that we, like our parents, can live more independently in the future.

What is the right technology solution for a huge global need? Statistically speaking, our world faces a looming crisis that – while it doesn’t hit the headlines often – will eventually affect every single person on our planet, and affect us in crucial ways. The crisis? Our aging population – and an avalanche of need that could likely fall upon the shoulders of us all.

Tags: 8-bit, microcontroller,

Comments on this post:

Jon Chandler
By Jon Chandler (0) 0Score: 

3 years ago:  As a couple geeky types, my partner and I probably took a very different path to eldercare than many would have when my father began suffering from dementia. We looked for the engineering solutions that would help him remain independent to the greatest extent possible. Even though he was living in an assisted care facility, having independence is important for dignity, and to be honest, to hold the line on care charges.

The first major piece of technology was a medication robot, the MD2, now offered by Phillips. With a complex medication routine and the need to take medications 3 times a day, the task quickly became unmanageable. With tried the various divided boxes and quickly gave up on that idea when dad called and said he had taken half-a-weeks pills all at once (fortunately, he had least that time!).

The MD2 is a brilliant piece of work. Pills for a week or more are loaded into individual cups. At the appropriate time, the machine announces "Time for your medications" and continues to do so for up to 45 minutes until the button is pressed to dispense the pills. After 45 minutes, the machine gets more cranky and louder and tries for another 45 minutes. At the point, if the pills haven't been taken, they are locked away and the machine "phones home" to let you know they is a problem.

At the time, the MD2 cost $700...compared to spending $300 per month for the care staff to give him his meds. Pretty much a non-brainer solution that let dad keep his dignity.

Also consider that (in this state anyway), a "med tech" has a very minimal training requirement. Do you really want to trust this to somebody who probably couldn't make change for a dollar? There are also a lot of reports that the elderly don't always get all of their meds, as the "good stuff" may find its way into a "caregiver's" pocket. Sad but true.

There's a goldmine of information provided by the MD2 that's not being used. Every night, the machine reports its status to headquarters. Missed doses, when pills were taken, etc. I believe that a lot could be determined from this information. For example, if the patient who always takes pills within 5 minutes of the first announcement starts to take 30 minutes of nagging to take the pills, something has changed in their habits and cognition. This could be an early indication of worsening condition.

Jon Chandler
By Jon Chandler (0) 0Score: 

3 years ago:  Our second use of technology was used to help dad stay oriented as to day and night. When you fall asleep with every light in the place on, when you wake up at 2 o'clock, you may not know if it's 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning. As dad's dementia worsened, he had a lot of problems with this. A 3 am phone call complaining that nobody was around the facility and he couldn't have his afternoon snack was hard to take.

This is one area where our implementation was less than perfect. Dad was quite upset when we explained that we were installing a system to turn off the lights at night. "I don't need that. It's a waste of money!" His dignity was hurt.

We installed a wireless control system anyway. The lights would dim in the evening starting about 8 PM and turn off at 10. Anything could be turned back on by pressing the switch as usual if he was awake. The lights were programmed to turn off again every hour all night long. In the morning, the lights would come on automatically.

This quickly cut out the middle of the night phone calls and reports by the staff that dad had been wandering around in the middle of the night. When we asked dad how the light system was working for him, he said "Oh, I thought we gave up on that." Mission accomplished with some simple technology.

Our error in implementation was to explain anything beyond "here's a remote control for you lights. It will make it easier to turn them on." Dad never would have noticed that he was sleeping though the night because the lights weren't on.

Some of our other trials and tribulations can be seen here:

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