Living at home as long as possible is the wish of the vast majority of the senior population in Quebec. While many issues arise in this context regarding the safety, mobility and socialization of the elderly, the development of technological solutions promoting home care has accelerated in recent years. What if technology turns out to be one of the keys to better aging in place?
Several research projects combining aging and technologies are currently being carried out at the Université de Sherbrooke. In addition to relying on interdisciplinary approaches, the teams of researchers give a leading role to seniors, by having them take part in their work. An orientation that makes it possible to better identify the problems as a whole, and to respond in a relevant and concrete way to the needs of users.
This is particularly the case for the projects carried out at the DOMUS laboratory, a smart apartment that aims to offer a certain autonomy to people with disabilities, including the elderly, through the use of technological tools.
Cognitive assistance at home
The laboratory has three main types of connected systems, which allow short-term and long-term remote monitoring, as well as cognitive assistance. Sensors and detectors concealed in the laboratory thus accompany the person, for example for the safe preparation of meals, or to help him return to his bed if he finds himself wandering at night. These devices make it possible to interact with it and obtain information on its behavior.
The data collected is particularly useful for the work of the healthcare teams and family caregivers who work with a person with a loss of autonomy, as well as for monitoring the evolution of their state of health and even being able to detect certain illnesses.
The systems developed by the DOMUS are also implemented directly in organisations, such as residences for the elderly, where their potential is applied on a daily basis.
The strength of interdisciplinarity and collaboration
Based in the Department of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science, this multidisciplinary laboratory relies on the expertise of researchers in occupational therapy, psychiatry, gerontology, ethics, industrial design and artificial intelligence.
It was co-founded by Professor Sylvain Giroux from the Computer Science Department, and Professor Hélène Pigot, from the same Department, also trained in occupational therapy. Both are also affiliated with the Center for Research on Aging. Interested in augmented reality and intelligent environments, Professor Charles Gouin-Vallerand, from the Department of Information Systems and Quantitative Management Methods at the School of Management, is also part of the team.
For our projects to work and be accepted, the original and transdisciplinary approach that we have adopted since the beginning of the laboratory in 2002 is essential.
Professor Charles Gouin-Vallerand, Department of Information Systems and Quantitative Management Methods, School of Management
Professor Sylvain Giroux also emphasizes the importance of the contribution of all users to research work:
From the outset, both seniors and people with disabilities, as well as the people around them and the staff who gravitate around them, participate in our research. What we get in the end is really a system that meets the needs, and not a system that meets the needs that we had imagined.
Professor Sylvain Giroux, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science, researcher at the Research Center on Aging
Living at home also means leaving home
To better understand the challenges associated with aging better at home, the team at the Laboratory of Innovations by and for Seniors (LIPPA), an initiative of the Center for Research on Aging, also consulted a group of about thirty senior citizens of Estrie. It is also through contact with them that the whole question of needs related to mobility and travel quickly emerged as an unavoidable issue. The Mobilaînés project was born from the needs expressed during this day of reflection.
Interestingly, the people we met told us that the best way to be able to stay at home is to be able to get out of the house.
Professor Dany Baillargeon, Department of Communication, Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, researcher at the Research Center on Aging
Dany Baillargeon and Professor Véronique Provencher, from the School of Rehabilitation of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, researchers at the Research Center on Aging, are the two principal co-researchers of the Mobilaînés project. They work with a team of researchers in social work, rehabilitation, geomatics, telemedicine and computer science as well as with partners from the Ville de Sherbrooke and various associations representing seniors.
In order to offer a tool that is better suited to the reality of these people, the research team operates in “living laboratory” mode, that is to say by putting seniors, future users of Mobilaînés, at the heart of development.
Towards more suitable and pleasant journeys
Intended for all multimedia platforms – telephones, tablets, computers – and accessible by telephone service, Mobilaînés aims to create a one-stop, user-friendly window combining all travel options in Sherbrooke, taking into account the needs and preferences of the elderly. While several such applications currently exist, few are adapted to the profiles of seniors.
“The tool will take into account, for example, the need for safety and the fluidity of traffic. Slopes… if sidewalks, benches, toilets are nearby,” explains professor and project co-researcher Bessam Abdulrazak, who is working with his AMI Lab team to develop multi-criteria algorithms to determine the most suitable for this audience.
The team was also keen to develop a user-friendly tool that could be easy to use and offer options that would make the travel experience more pleasant for seniors with various profiles.
The most important part of this is the digital literacy part. We aim to simplify the interface for older people who are less comfortable with technology, so that it is easy to use.
Professor Bessam Abdulrazak, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science, Researcher at Center for Research on Aging
Foster digital literacy and socialization
While a good number of older people are technologically savvy, a significant segment of this population nevertheless experiences a form of digital exclusion, because they cannot or do not know how to use IT tools. Whether we are talking about videoconferencing software, e-mails and text messages, applications for getting around or making purchases, the various information technologies can play an important role in keeping seniors at home.
This is the objective behind the techno support project of the Accorderie de Sherbrooke service exchange network, in collaboration with the University of Sherbrooke.
In our network, 20% of members are aged 65 and over, but almost 50% take part in exchanges. With the confinement in the spring of 2020, we wanted to offer them personalized computer support so that they could stay in touch with their family and friends.
Catherine Larouche, General Manager of L’Accorderie de Sherbrooke
Members of the network who have computer skills have been paired with seniors in order to offer them training in the use of certain tools and software. In exchange, senior members could offer gardening, sewing, etc. services.
The fact of having been able to socialize with their network, their children, grandchildren, it had an impact on mental health and support during a period of confinement at home.
François Racicot-Lanoue, doctoral student in gerontology at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences
The latter also firmly believes in the potential of the exchange of services between members of a community, which is the basis of the creation of networks like L’Accorderie, to promote, even collectivize “aging well” at the home.
Exchanging services creates a social bond, adds François Racicot-Lanoue. A senior can receive services at home, participate in activities that allow him to socialize more, and pass on his knowledge in exchange. It’s very rich.
Ultimately, all of the research teams working on technologies and better aging at home mentioned above are of the opinion that beyond technological and digital advances, the fact of contributing to the best -aging in the home of the elderly, the maintenance of their meaningful activities and the advent of truly caring communities remains their most important source of motivation and commitment.