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  (Source: Comedy Central)

Shopping can be a confusing experience for the elderly. However, researchers hope new technology will give those with dementia and Alzheimer's the ability to explore with confidence.  (Source: Telegraph UK)
New technology promises hope for older folks lost in the supermarket maze

The British government is hard at work dreaming up ways to use technology to help the elderly.  Some of the ideas it has come up with are a bit strange, to say the least.  One of the quirky ideas is to add turn-by-turn directions to shopping carts.

Apparently, the idea behind the project is to allow elderly patients currently confined to nursing homes with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's, the ability to go out into the world and explore, completing life tasks.  Shopping is one such daunting task, which would be extremely confusing to such individuals due to the plethora of products assailing the senses, and the narrow, sometimes maze-like aisles.  The new system uses a mobile phone, tied to GPS.

Newcastle University, which along with Aberdeen and Nottingham universities is conducting the research projects, also is testing a device that tracks lost elderly with mental conditions.  Professor Paul Watson, of Newcastle University comments, "Many older people lack the confidence to maintain ‘normal’ walking habits. This is often due to worries about getting lost in unfamiliar, new or changing environments."

Best of all, the new gadgets are designed to preserve the self-esteem of the elderly -- they are described by the researchers as "unobtrusive".

Professor Watson has also dreamed up a sensor-rich kitchen to help elderly patients with dementia.  In the kitchen, every cupboard door, appliance and utensil has sensors and/or RFID tags built into it.  They track the user's actions.  If the central processor thinks the person is becoming confused, it projects reminders onto the kitchen wall, cuing them to what they should be doing.

The setup could be coming to homes in five years, says Professor Watson.  He states, "This is for people starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease who may get half way through cooking a meal or making a cup of tea but who then get stuck. There are sensors in the utensils and floor so it knows when people are cutting vegetables or using the kettle.  It is designed to learn people’s behaviour and spot when something unusual has happened - then prompt them. The idea is to put it into your own home. The cost will be hundreds of pounds - and it will save on the costs of sheltered accommodation."

The setup has pressure pads on the floor to determine where the person is standing and what way they are facing.  The central computing unit is hidden in one of the cupboards.

Professor Watson and his fellow researchers have also completed a home health kit that collects vital signs, including heartbeat, temperature and breathing rates, and sends them wirelessly to a doctor's office.

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RE: safety
By geddarkstorm on 4/30/2009 2:41:20 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, people generally live a lot shorter (the average life span is still only the 70s), and less healthy in later years, than they should be able to. We've had plenty of examples and cases of people living well into the 90s and 100s at the same level of health as the standard population in their 60s and 70s. The truth is, our genetics and biology is more than capable of letting us live longer than we do, but various reasons not completely understood, though most seemingly revolving around dietary cues, shortens our spans (and conversely, those with specific metabolic genes or diets tend to live a lot longer, and healthier all the way through). Dementia should not, in any way, be a part of aging.

Genetically, the only limit on our life span is our telomere length. Now, a new born, or embryonic cells, have about 90 population doublings in them before they go senescent (meaning lose functionality, not just mitotic potential, and eventually self destruct). A 70 year old person's stem cells have 20-30 population doublings left (and don't need to use them as often, as they aren't in development anymore, just for healing and maintenance); that is, they still have 1/3rd of their effective ceullar life span left to go. That is why, genetically, scientist say we should be able to live 120 years maximum, unless of course we can safely activate telomerase and restore our telomeres, thus making us as long lived in theory as our species itself (which is a chain of unbroken genetics and mitochondria in the first place).

A great example of what I mean is calorie restriction (CR), which has been shown as the only known (thus far) method to consistently and significantly increase the life span and health of all tested multi-cellular organisms. Currently, studies on rhesus monkeys are underway and thus far showing the trend continues for them. Likely the reason CR works as it does, is once you have stopped maturing and growing, your body no longer needs high levels of nutrients and resources. Flooding the body with them constantly causes important pathways, like the protein Sirt1, to shut off. After that, all sorts of tomfoolery begins to build up, such as loss of specific gene regulation which Sirt1 is partially responsible for -- meaning that neurons begin to express liver only genes and proteins, and voila, you get neuronal degradation and dementia. Of course, this is all just one of many theories on aging, but none the less, we aren't programmed in any way to undergo this, this is aberrant events caused by extrinsic factors.

So, the truth is, we should be able to push 90 and 100 just fine, it should be the norm, from a purely genetic standpoint, and from the empirical examples we've had. But alas, until we understand more about why our modern diets cause our metabolisms to go out of whack and blow the whole system to kingdom come, we're still a long way from realizing our true biological potential. This isn't, in any way, "cheating nature", it's understanding nature instead.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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