Helping the elderly stay independent longer

Homes outfitted with artificial intelligence keep a watchful eye on residents

By the year 2020, more than 70 million Americans will be at least 60 years old. Almost all of them will prefer to live in their homes, living independently as long as possible. This creates a host of challenges as older people can struggle with daily tasks, have safety concerns, and have difficulty taking care of daily needs without assistance.

Diane Cook, director of the Smart Homes Project in the Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems, is working to meet these challenges by designing homes that, in effect, think.

As Cook pointed out in a perspective in the journal Science, off-the-shelf technology already exists to monitor movements in a home, read light and temperature levels, and both monitor and record the use of appliances. She designs computer software that can gather this data and use artificial intelligence to discern patterns and trends. It unobtrusively tends to residents’ comfort, conserves resources, reminds residents of important tasks, and looks after the residents’ health and safety.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and Washington State’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund, Cook has been applying artificial intelligence in test homes since coming to Washington State University in 2006. Sites around the Northwest, including 18 apartments in Seattle, already show that the technology can help monitor aging-in-place elderly residents and alert caregivers if they are not completing ordinary activities like rising, eating, bathing, and taking medications.