UMaine faculty shared some of their latest aging-related research projects with students and colleagues.
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Simplicity and straightforwardness in product designs and deployments
KISS Your Product. Really. The KISS principle should be a mainstay in aging in place technology design, or as Laurie says “Design for All.” Here’s what Wikipedia says about KISS, an acronym for the design principle "Keep it simple, Stupid!". Other variations include "keep it short and simple", "keep it simple AND stupid" or "keep it simple and straightforward". The KISS principle states that simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.”
When considering PERS, for example, ask and know the answer. We’ve had hands-on experience with a number of aging in place technologies and came up with this list of questions for consumers considering personal emergency response systems (from push button necklaces to in-home sensor systems). We did this because we are frustrated with many of the vendor assumptions about who would use their product or service and how it would be used. An example: One of the vendors we talked to wanted to sell their gear into assisted living communities where every resident would wear their system. But, this particular system requires daily charging of each of the devices. My question was to the vendor was: how can the assisted living staff manage charging 40 to 500 devices on a daily basis? I got no answer. Duh.
What's in a name whe you're trying to sell a product? First, we call these things “personal security systems” since none of the people who buy them call them our AIP geek-speak, “PERS.” I’ve heard them referred to as “that button”, “that necklace thingy”, “the home spy system”, “big brother”, etc. Not once has an older adult referred to it as a PERS -- or its cousin, 'medical alarm system'. Second, I would like purveyors of this gear to imagine their consumer and/or their purchaser and how they would react to our questions and answers below. Does your literature address these issues? Do you provide advice to caregivers and older adults about how to overcome these issues for your product or service? These questions are part of our Personal Security Buyers’ Guide. Something similar for each category of technology product or service would make them easier to explain, sell, and deploy among those who most benefit.
1. Will you push the button or call?
Manually activated medical alarms are activated in only 1 out of 5 elderly falls — that means that 4 people out of 5 either won’t or can’t push the button.
2. Will you wear a device that has to be on your body?
There are a number of medical alarms that require you to wear a neck pendant. If you won’t wear it, it won’t help you in an emergency. Some of the newer automatic fall detection devices require you to wear the device around your waist. They work well, but only if you wear them.
3. Are you out and about and away from your home much of the time?
If you are out and about, many of the in-home systems may not be a good solution for you. We all hope that if we have a fall or other medical issue while we are out that someone will notice and help us. But, for many of us, working in our gardens or traveling on a highway, help might not be readily available. It is important to consider a device like a cell phone, that will be available when and where you need it.
4. Will you charge your electronics daily?
Most technology devices require daily charging for successful use. It’s best to charge your device at the same time everyday, perhaps during breakfast or dinner or while you are watching your favorite TV show, in an easily accessible place.
5. Do you have relatives or children that you depend on who are more than an hour away?
Some of the newer systems have automated reporting to the Internet and can generate text messages, emails or phone calls to your family or caregiver if something goes awry. Family and caregivers can also keep track of your activities online, without bothering you, so you keep your independence and dignity and they get some peace-of-mind.
6. Are you starting to be forgetful?
If you are forgetful, you may forget to wear or carry a device. Or, you may forget how to push the button. Practice will help with that and you should consider a weekly test of your emergency system or plan. Passive in-home sensor systems may be the best fit for forgetfulness. These systems have sensors placed around the home and report activity or lack of activity to caregivers and family via the Internet.
7. Do you leave the phone off the hook?
If you leave the phone off the hook and you have a system that makes a phone call, you might want to consider an Internet solution instead or add a second phone line that is specifically for the emergency system.
Susan Estrada is the founder of Happy@Home, a new product testing and review site, and will offer her perspective in this blog from time to time.