TechBite on Assisted Living

Key insights and resources taken from the IET Vision and Imaging Technical and Professional Network seminar in November 2015.


Thanks to an increasingly elderly population and its demands on healthcare services, research efforts into active and assisted living (AAL) technologies have increased rapidly in recent years. But these solutions don’t only offer support to the elderly – designed to help people to keep active, socially connected and live independently, they also offer many benefits to those living with disabilities.

image of an elderly lady holding an ipad Technology has been applied from many different sectors to create AAL solutions, with the communications industry leading the way. Today much of the focus revolves around the Internet of Things (IoT). With wearable devices, sensor systems and video cameras providing greater independence.

The benefits of AAL technologies

“There are multiple areas where research and innovation is carried out regarding technologies for assisted living,” says Dr Francisco Flórez-Revuelta, a senior researcher at the Interdisciplinary Hub for the Study of Health and Age-related conditions, Kingston University.

“The benefits will be multiple: for the people in need as they will be able to self-manage their health condition; for their professional or family carers, as they will be able to receive real-time information about the status of the assisted person; for clinical staff as they will have tools to extract knowledge from the large amounts of data acquired; for the public services as they will be able to optimise resources.

“In the near future we will see technology that monitors the users continuously, learning from their behaviour and providing services accordingly. This technology will be aware of the context and adapt to their different healthcare needs. This will be supported by networks of sensors and actuators, with local and remote processing of the data acquired. Interesting technologies will be related to social robotics, management of chronic conditions, support of daily living activities, fall prevention or cognitive stimulation. This also implies important developments in other areas, such as miniaturisation, batteries, or biosensors,” he adds.

The importance of remembering the end user

There’s a lot of good work underway, but many experts still have concerns, such as keeping the end user in mind.

“Where technologies have failed, this is in part due to designers and technologists not taking a sufficiently inclusive approach…designing products in a way that has not involved people who may have physical, sensory or mobility impairments,” says Dr Malcolm Fisk, Senior Research Fellow from De Montfort University. “Small screens with tiny buttons on the keypad come to mind – or touch screens, which are no good if you’re visually impaired,” he notes.

View Dr Malcolm Fisk’s presentation: Protection from Abuse? Resolving the Privacy Dilemma with Cameras and Other Surveillance Technology

Dr Fisk believes the focus should be less on new advancements and more on “making use of what we’ve got”, essentially, improving accessibility and usability, and this view is mirrored by Professor Bart Vanrumste, from the Department of Electrical Engineering at KU Leuven.

“What an engineer thinks is a good design or system is not necessarily so for the user. The design of technology needs to be carried out with end users. This is called user-centred design,” he says.

View Professor Bart Vanrumste’s presentation: Video based fall risk estimation and fall detection

Privacy concerns

Then there’s also the issue of personal privacy, with many AAL devices focused on monitoring our movements and lifestyle as well as recording personal health data.

“There are the twin challenges of inclusiveness and privacy,” Dr Fisk highlights. “Hopefully we’ll see engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators becoming more concerned with the way that people can harness AAL technologies in relation to their individual needs and choices,” he concludes.

What do you think? Discuss issues around active and assisted living in the IET Vision and Imaging Community:

To view the following presentations go to www.theiet.org/techaal-2015

  • Infrastructureless Pedestrian Navigation to Assess Responses of Alzheimer’s Patients to Visual Cues – Ian McCarthy
  • Gait Analysis on the move: The Infinite Gait Walkway – Stefan Wakolbinger
  • Barriers to the diffusion of telecare and telehealth in the EU – Sebastian Merkel
  • Speech-enabled Environmental Control in an AAL setting for people with Speech Disorders – Heidi Christensen
  • The Efficacy of “Busyness” as a Measure for Behaviour Pattern Analysis using Unlabelled Senor Data – Laura Fiorini
  • On the development of a service robot for social interaction with the Elderly – David Portugal

Join the discussion

Take a look at the IET Vision and Imaging Community and get involved with the latest discussions on Assisted Living.

Other resources taken from this event:

Hot topic film: Will advances in technology make us less sociable?
Hot topic film: Should we use cameras in Care Centres to help protect people from abuse?