Health and Human Services

Health and Human Services

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6130-1.ch006
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Persons with disabilities and the elderly present an increased need for health and human services such as care taking, remote monitoring for hospital care, etc. Moreover, people's perceptions of the notion of disability and especially of cognitive impairments and disorders are beginning to change. The increase in people in need of health services because of ageing is another important factor making this aspect of life one of the most important aspects for independent and assisted living, which the second section discusses. This section focuses on issues that technologies and applications in the area have to face in the next years such as cost, human factors, privacy, the quality of services, etc. in order for people with disabilities and the elderly to benefit from them.
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Issues such as the future of retinal prosthetics, cochlear implants or advanced prosthetics and exoskeletons have been addressed elsewhere in this book, either under the heading of game-changing technologies or as part of another section on transport and mobility or human performance for example.

Suffice it to say that many more innovations are in the pipelines in terms of systems for dealing with pain, memory loss, incontinence or a wide variety of conditions that can be addressed using advances in neuroengineering and man-machine interfaces. Some of the most exciting advances will occur in relation to the restoration of sense not just hearing and sight, but motor-control, touch or feeling, taste and even smell. These often require medical intervention of some form, or are funded by healthcare systems, but we do not consider them here.

Instead we focus on two areas that are linked in many ways. One is the area of ageing and care of the elderly. This has had a lot of attention in the last decade past, especially systems addressed to the needs of people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The kind of technologies considered under these headings had to do with smart homes, wearable computing as well as the monitoring and care in the home. In the following pages we will look at some of these and see what the next generation of solutions will look like.

The biggest innovation is arguable the rise in awareness of mental or cognitive disabilities. These are extremely widespread and chronic cases are associated with social stigma and difficulty in workplace insertion. Technologies that help people live with these conditions can be considered assistive technology, access technologies or inclusion technologies depending on the details of the condition.

The novel feature of these conditions is the role that ICT can play is not so much in curing or compensating for the condition, but as a medium for the provision of physical, cognitive and behavioral therapies.

An interesting feature of these systems is that they apply to common conditions of general that interest such as alcohol abuse, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, management of weight, blood-pressure, cholesterol, as well as shyness, anxiety, anger or depression. In other words general technologies of use for conditions such as ADHD1 or Alzheimer’s2, which generally require specialist intervention, can also be applied to range of life-style disorders amenable to the overall management of lifestyle using advanced sensor technologies, knowledge gleaned from socially created big-data, as well as emerging disciplines from the cognitive sciences and neural engineering, as well as social and affective computing.

A related trend is the promise of being able to use big-data and communities doing forms of citizen science such as many of those involved in the QS movement. This has the potential to accelerate research and understanding of these conditions and how best to live with them.

The issue of ageing will continue to increase in importance. The reason is simple. Society is getting older, we are living longer after retirement and there is a shared interest in people living productive independent lives for as long as they possibly can. The potential for older people to benefit from e-assistive, e-access or e-inclusive technologies is clear when you consider that old age is inevitably accompanied by a deterioration of the faculties in ways that often resemble a disability. The problems older people may have to deal with are:

  • Low strength

  • Low stamina

  • Low mobility

  • Weak sight

  • Poor hearing

  • Poor coordination

  • Difficulties making decisions

  • Memory loss

  • Dementia

  • Diabetes

  • Depression

Many of the challenges faced by elderly people resemble those faced by someone in mid-life who has had an operation, a serious illness, or obesity. They can al benefit from the use of ICT.

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