Grandpa in the Fishbowl

16. November 2006
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What are we going to do with all those babyboomers, when they get old? We bundle them in a stylish housing project and observe them via internet. "Smarter Living", is the key word. How this is working out, shows a residential home for the elderly at the West Coast in the US. You'll find more movement sensors there than inhabitants.

No later than the day, Frank Schirrmacher, editor of the German newspaper FAZ, had acted out his midlife-crisis publicly with his books, the last babyboomer comprehended, that eventually even he will get old. What is coming about in our society is the first German generation of retirees used to a comfortable life with all sorts of gadgets. It also is a generation, where at least a lot of the people have a lot of loose change. They should be in a position with it to readjust their familiar living environment according to the changing requirements. And it should give them an alternative to a nursing home, even if no large family lives just around the block.

"Everything's OK. Granny is just taking a walk with Hubert."

Just how something like that could look like, Lydia Lundberg, boss of Elite Care Technologies and emigrated from Nuremberg/Germany to the US, recently reported at the trade show eHome 2006 in Berlin. It is not a regular nursing home, what she and her husband built up at the West Coast near Portland/Oregon. Oatfield Estates are a generously designed, not exactly inexpensive residence for senior citizens, where the inhabitants are able to live mostly autonomous. More than 1,000 movement sensors monitor the grounds, not only the common rooms and parks, but also inside the apartments. Every inhabitant is equipped with an individual radio transmission chip, which informs the monitoring headquarters and thus nursing staff at all times, where each and every inhabitant is located at any particular time. The monitoring even goes inside the bedrooms: For example the mattresses are equipped with sensors, transmitting when each inhabitant leaves the bed or fell out of it. For example, for people suffering from dementia walking off quite often, alert functions can be activated which will turn on as soon as this person comes close to any of the exits of the parks, Worst case: One of the nurses has to start a sprint and check what's going on there. But this is by far not all, there is out there. With the agreement of the inhabitants, family members can log on via an internet family portal into the housing system. "Thanks to the radio chips, family members can see the whereabouts of their loved ones on the ground plan any time", explains Lundberg. There's only one question left: Whether this sort of care warms Grandpa's heart just as much as a walk with his grandchildren.
To skeptics she explains this tool per videostream as well. No matter if we are talking lunch, afternoon walk or nap, whoever wants to do so, can participate in Granny's or Grandpa's life per internet, from work or at home. It's not like Lundberg doesn't admit, that this is a way thinking, you have to get used to first. But the offer is being made use of: "We have relatives in Florida or even in New Zealand and it is perfect for them". If the large family does not live on family grounds any more, but is spread all over the world, then family life in the 21st century has to take place in the internet.

IT-providers and housing industry hear the bells chime

For many people, a residence for senior citizens – no matter just how stylish it might be – is only second choice. It could be a lot more attractive to transfer the entire technology to your "home sweet home". The babyboomer can stay there even if body and head are not, what they used to be. This is the target of the specific field of "Smart Living", its followers cavorting somewhere between medicine, architecture and engineering. The aim: To make the apartment respectively the house fit for seniors by using of modern communication technologies. That includes supply of medical monitoring as well as services and systems preventing accidents, organizing help if need be or just simply making live easier. "We visualize a mixed calculation here, where costs for intelligent housing technology is being paid together with the rent and costs for telemetry via public health- and nursing insurances plus perhaps an own contribution", says Rainer Beckers of the Zentrum für Telematik im Gesundheitswesen (ztg, Center for healthcare telematics). The ztg is currently equipping 16 appartments in Essen, together with the Caritas and several IT companies. With a close eye on the full pockets of the babyboomers, the industry hears the bells chime and is investingstrongly into research. Philips for example has opened its CareLab at Eindhoven last October. The spectrum includes telemedical care by TV, meals by the push of a button all the way to emergency call systems. Also on this side of the Rhine river, a housing project is being developed for future generations 70 plus. At Duisburg, the Fraunhofer Societsy will give the "go" for a project called inHaus-2 with more than 3,500 square meters. The babyboomer can be helped.

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