Supporting a Virtual Community for the Elderly

Supporting a Virtual Community for the Elderly

Luis M. Camarinha-Matos (New University of Lisbon and Uninova Institute, Portugal) and Filipa Ferrada (New University of Lisbon and Uninova Institute, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-563-4.ch083
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Abstract

An important application context for virtual communities is elderly care. One of the key challenges facing modern societies is the increasing speed at which the population is aging. In Europe, for example, during the last three decades the number of people aged 60 years or more has risen by about 50%. Traditional approaches to care provision are based on support from either the relatives or the elderly care centers. Nevertheless, these two solutions have become increasingly insufficient due to (1) the impractical responsibility onto relativesĀ¾given the fact that more and more family members have to work to secure steady incomes; (2) the costs of providing sufficient care centers, which leads to a relocation of the elderly people, often beyond their home communities; and (3) the fact that many elderly people preserve enough robustness to be in their homes, a situation that is often preferable to them, and as such, better for their welfare (Castolo, Ferrada, & Camarinha-Matos, 2004). This will inevitably place a considerable strain on resources and finances. To deal with this challenge, new ways of providing elderly assistance and care must be found, including the creation of a new technological infrastructure. An integrated elderly care system comprises a number of organizations, such as social security institutions, care centers/day centers, health care institutions and so forth, and involves the cooperation of a number of different human actors; for example, social care assistants, health care professionals, the elderly people and their relatives. If supported by computer networks and adequate assistance tools, such systems may evolve towards operating as a long-term virtual organization, and the various involved actors become part of a virtual community. Furthermore, virtual communities can bring the sense of community and of recognition, respect and belonging, which gives the elderly a strong feeling of usefulness along with better support for their own needs. In this context, the IST TeleCARE project (Camarinha-Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2002, 2004) was launched with the aim of designing and developing a configurable framework, based on mobile (software) agents, focused on the establishment of virtual communities for elderly support. In this article, the TeleCARE Time Bank virtual community concept is presented and the developed supporting infrastructure is discussed.

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