A robot moves through a house following in the wake of the person who lives there. It accompanies and watches over her. It can recognize the activity she is carrying out: whether or not she leaves the house, if she is eating, if she is spending too much time sitting down or is exercising. At the same time, fitted sensors measure physiological parameters such as pulse rate, respiration, body temperature and posture. All of this information is monitored in real time. Another electronic device enables the person to make contact with the outside world without going out. The device can be used for medical consultations, to communicate with family, to receive suggestions for leisure activities, and to keep in touch with friends.
This seems like a futuristic scenario, but it forms part of our reality. These technological solutions already exist, have been tested, and are ready to be marketed. They have been developed using information and communication technologies (ICT) to help individuals to continue to carry out their daily activities in their homes, for as long as possible and with the least assistance. This is the reason for the name “Ambient Assisted Living” (AAL).
Elderly people want to remain independent while they have no disabilities that prevent this or their level of disability is manageable. Ambient intelligence is a very useful tool as it enables people to continue to live in their homes with sufficient confidence and security. Ambient intelligence is the application of ICT to the everyday environment, so that users can communicate with the devices in a natural way. People do not have to adapt to the technology. In fact, the opposite is true: the technology must be perfectly integrated into the environment; sensitive to the situational, temporal or emotional context; able to respond to the most common forms of human interaction, such as speech and gestures; and capable of interpreting the user’s intentions.
AAL is the result of applying the ambient intelligence paradigm to help elderly people to live independently for longer. This innovative use of ICT undeniably improves people’s quality of life, reduces social and health costs, and is a corporate business opportunity. This is particularly true for SMEs, which have made a notable contribution to the sector. As a result of all these advantages, EU Member States and three associated countries (Israel, Norway and Switzerland) have promoted the AAL Joint Programme.
Ambient assisted living
The AAL Joint Programme promoted the creation of new products and services to increase the length of time that people can live independently. The proposals that emerged from the programme were aimed at the main end users (elderly people) or their carers. However, they could also be extended to other social groups, such as people with functional diversity. The equipment, programmes and applications that were generated had to be able to gather data, but also to monitor (and try to correct, if necessary) the habits of users.
As a result, devices have been created that help elderly people to do the tasks of cleaning, cooking, shopping, hygiene, diet and taking medication. Beyond the provision of support in domestic tasks and personal care, devices have contributed to preventing injuries at home and to alerting support services in the case of falls; facilitating people’s mobility and ensuring independent movement; and encouraging social integration by reducing the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are so common in old age. For there is one thing that ICT can guarantee: communication.