MIT’s Assistive Technology Group is actively working towards implementing state-of-the-art solutions in order to make cutting-edge technology accessible to those who need it the most. The team develops low-cost and robust methods of plugging in any adaptive switch to fully access all software, apps, and functions on Windows computers and Android-based smartphones and tablets. These platforms, once unlocked, have the potential of becoming the ultimate assistive devices, allowing single switch access to a world of communication, environmental control, healthcare, entertainment, and other applications.
Dr. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of MIT’s AgeLab, spoke last month at TEDx Boston about impressive advancements in longevity. 100 years ago, the average lifespan was 47, but according to Reuters, “half of babies born in rich world will live to 100.” The challenge we’ve got now is reinventing the future to address the question of what will we be doing with those additional years. Will we be frail and in need of constant care, or will we be vibrant contributors to the workforce and society?
The question demands changes in technologies, our personal lives, our homes, public policy, and in business. That’s because baby boomers, which are turning age 65 one in every 7-8 seconds, have much higher expectations than their parents of technology, government, and employers.
Boomers would rather not feel or be labeled “old,” even though aging has become an extreme sport. Reaching up for things on store shelves and in kitchen cabinets has become more difficult, and so has reaching under cabinets. The prescription medicine bottles or cereal boxes have now become obstacles. And so has transportation for those who can no longer drive, because 70% of them live where there’s no public transportation or where there’s a very long walk to get there.
James Crabtree, comment editor at Financial Times Magazine, wrote an excellent article on the challenges of supporting America’s aging population, starting with his account of a visit to MIT’s Age Lab and his experience wearing AGNES, or Age Gain Now Empathy System. I highly recommend reading the article and only include minor highlights here.
The article includes several photos including one of Paro, an animatronic ‘therapeutic’ robot baby seal from Japan that was designed to comfort elderly patients suffering from dementia. As seen in the video below, Paro responds to touch and sound.