Hands-free Page-turning

Is your life filled with desk-crushing textbooks or Everest-high piles of murder mysteries? Are you dreading reading them because of arthritis, repetitive stress or other hand injuries? Musicians and choristers are in on a solution that could be useful to seniors.

The music world’s equivalent of the doorstopper book is the bulky score. For just one example, the score of the holiday classic Handel’s Messiah can easily run 250 pages. That’s a whole lot of turning, not to mention the embarrassment of stuck or skipped pages while performing.

To solve the problem, concert pianist and former Curtis Institute of Music faculty member Hugh Sung co-created a company called AirTurn, which produces a page-turning system that consists of a holder for a tablet computer and a wireless foot pedal to move the pages forward.

The system can also work with .pdfs (although not, unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle), so it can be adapted as a general book reader. It will take some configuring, but it’s well worth considering if you own a tablet computer and would like to minimize the use of your hands or are just tired of having sheet music fall at your feet.

In fact, according to AirTurn’s Tanya Unger, many physical therapists are already helping their patients learn to use AirTurn, which also has a bite switch available for those for whom a foot pedal may not work. As Unger says, “We like to promote freedom and independence; it’s nice to not have to rely on a family member to help you read a book.”

Below is a quick overview of the system for the iPad. It is also available for Windows and Android-based tablets, and can work with a music stand as shown or with AirTurn’s tiltable tablet holder.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80OVgx5Q7T4]



Happy National Senior Citizens Day! (Did you know it existed?)

Today, August 21st, is National Senior Citizens Day, a holiday that was proclaimed by President Reagan in 1988, but hasn’t seemed to catch on outside of nursing homes. Remarkably, even the greeting card industry hasn’t taken to it.

Instead of waiting around to be vaguely “honored” simply for being old, we propose that those 50 and older make this a day of activism. The most obvious place to start would be the re-authorization of the Older Americans Act, but whatever your cause, here are online resources for getting in touch with government officials and agencies:

Okay, so maybe there's a good reason it didn't catch on...

Okay, so maybe there’s a good reason it didn’t catch on…

Of course, if you’d rather just relax and celebrate, Seniordiscounts.com has discounts organized by both type and place. Enjoy!




Quick–but important–Caregiving Survey from PBS

PBS’s Next Avenue, a site that covers all aspects of senior living, is conducting an online survey focused on ideas to “help broaden choices and improve ongoing living assistance.” They hope to use the results to guide their coverage of the issues.

Unlike most online surveys, it really is as short as it promises. It has only seven “how important” statements that it asks you to rate on a 1-10 scale, with a sliding button. The link was emailed to their subscribers, or you can find the survey here.

We think the survey itself can be a great tool to spark family discussions among elderly parents and caregiving children, as well as serve as a “gut check” for assumptions about caregiving requirements, whether for yourself or others.

No surprises here. Graphic from Seniorhelpers.com.

No surprises here. Graphic from Seniorhelpers.com.

And as far as “assumptions” go, today at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, Princeton graduate student Angelina Grigoryeva is presenting her findings on family caregiving. She concludes: “Daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of elderly parent care per month as compared to sons’ 5.6 hours.”

We suspect many female readers are not surprised by her research.

Technological Solutions for Patient Lifting

One of the greatest dangers for both professional and non-professional caregivers is lifting patients, so much so that a bill was introduced in Congress last year to eliminate manual patient handling. While the bill still awaits passage, there are some interesting alternatives on the technology front.

For the last several years, Japan’s RIKEN Institute, in collaboration with Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd., has been testing RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), a carebot that can lift patients. Its latest iteration, RIBA-II, announced in 2011, can lift a person weighing up to 176 pounds straight from the floor. Unfortunately, it still looks like one of Darth Vader’s stormtroopers crossed with a toy bear.

Another approach is to eliminate the need for lifting entirely. Panasonic is marketing Resyone, a wheelchair that transforms into a flat-bed (not unlike a first class airline seat). It recently earned global safety standard ISO13482 approval, a first for a service robot.

This might work. Image courtesy of Daewoo.

This might work. Image courtesy of Daewoo.

In a robotics advance on the load-bearing belt, South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering has created an exoskeleton for their shipyard workers. Already in use, it allows workers to lift materials weighing up to 70 pounds, with plans to increase the load capacity to 200 pounds. It’s not hard to imagine a version that could be employed in hospitals and other medical settings.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, most of these solutions will likely be available at price points that only make them practical for institutions. In the meantime, please remember that the medical literature is filled with grim studies of injuries sustained by caregivers who tried to move bedridden or seated patients. One of those studies offers this cautionary description: “In a perfect world, a ‘safe’ lift would be 51 pounds if the object is within 7 inches from the front of the body, if it is at waist height, if it is directly in front of the person, if there is a handle on the object, and if the load inside the box/bucket doesn’t shift once lifted.” In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for help.



Unintended Insights from the documentary Cyber-Seniors

Cyber-Seniors, currently making the rounds of indie cinemas, is a well-meaning documentary by filmmaker Saffron Cassaday that chronicles the efforts of her siblings and their high school classmates to introduce Toronto seniors to the Internet.

It’s a grandchild’s valentine to the grandparent generation, which is both its charm and its flaw. There’s too much condescension to the “cuteness” of seniors; it would have been far better to see more of what the participants felt from their own point-of-view. Still, it ought to be required viewing by anyone designing technology or offering tech tutorials for older seniors.

Some of the awkward unfamiliarity is a bit surprising, when you consider that if you subtract twenty years, all but the very oldest would likely have encountered computers in their workplaces. Nevertheless, aging itself makes even the most basic of computer tasks difficult; for example, we see a 77-year-old flummoxed by double-clicking.

In truth, we take clicking so for granted, we forget that it’s actually a proprioceptive challenge: The brain must determine and signal how much pressure is required to differentiate clicks, further complicated in the old by compensating for arthritic fingers. Unfortunately, proprioception, like other senses, declines with age, so the “simple” act of clicking becomes akin to mastering chords on a guitar. Similarly, reading on a monitor becomes like trying to find a grey cat in a fog.

Watching Cyber-Seniors, you see clearly that navigating the Internet is a double-whammy for the advanced elderly: It requires both understanding new intellectual concepts and mastering novel movements. The cognitive challenges cannot be underestimated: Many of the participants forget not only their passwords, but their security prompts. When asked, “What is your pet’s name?” one nonagenarian replies, “I don’t have a pet anymore.”

As much as it intends to celebrate the efforts of the young volunteers, the documentary also unintentionally demonstrates that generosity and kindness don’t quite make up for lack of preparation. Some of the cognitive load would have been lightened if the volunteers had a practiced script with well-tested procedures. It would have been extremely helpful for the seniors to have a printout with reminders of the basics, from steps to get on the Web to a box to write down passwords.

Yet in one respect, the seniors caught on fast. The filmmakers encouraged them to produce YouTube videos for a clickbait contest (the videos are still online). When one woman’s video is thumbed down, she asks—with just the right tone of shaming–“Who could dislike something so innocuous?”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bemDf6wuHJ0]


Will we really accept robot caregivers?

Author and physician Louise Aronson writes in the New York Times that America needs the kinds of robot caregivers being used in Japan, yet three years ago the BBC reported that the Japanese were actually rejecting robots: “We want humans caring for us, not machines,” said one patient.

Undaunted, in June, Japan’s Softbank began demonstrating Pepper, a glossy white plastic humanoid robot with big black eyes that looks like the love child of Sailor Moon and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Although it is supposed to be able to react to human emotions, the prototype, described in detail by Sam Byford for The Verge, does not do much to reassure us of Dr. Aronson’s thesis.

Paradoxically, while patients are rejecting humanoid robots, they’re embracing an animal one.


Paro. Awwwww…

The therapeutic robot Paro, which looks like a heartbreakingly cute baby seal, has become a darling of nursing homes. One study showed Paro had more patient interactions than an actual, living dog. It also has the advantages of not triggering allergies or creating “accidents.” Notably, patients talked more about Paro than the dog, so the robot was credited with inspiring social interactions among patients, yet it’s worth questioning if that’s a novelty effect that may diminish.

Perhaps the acceptance of Paro isn’t merely because it’s so damn cute. Maybe there’s a temporal uncanny valley that makes us prefer animal companion robots to humanoid ones: Toy-like furry critters take you back to the familial warmth of childhood, while humanoid machines are nasty reminders of a lonely present.

Indeed, the NIMBY-ish responses in a study from Sweden  suggest that robots will never truly replace the emotional component: “The participants perceived that having a robot might be ‘good for others but not themselves,’…while their relatives and informal caregivers perceived a robot as ‘not for my relative but for other older people’”.


Quote of the Day

We elders may not be up to speed on all the latest techie happenings, but that does not mean we are stupid, an inference I often sense from the youngish caregiving entrepreneurs.

John Boden of LifeLedger

Scammer Tricks

Older seniors are often targeted by scammers, whose first move is to win the trust of their targets. AARP ran a story a couple of years back about one scam that used a trick that bears repeated warning.

In the 876 scam, callers from Jamaica (area code 876) try to convince Americans they’re calling from a toll-free contest line and then trick them into paying a “deposit” for the prize. If you call one of these numbers back, you’re likely to be charged 50 cents a minute by your own phone company before the thieves even get their hooks in. Yet, what’s truly scary is how easily they can convince you that a Prize Van is almost at your door.

According to AARP, they’re using the 3D maps of Google Earth to discuss details of people’s neighborhoods. We think AARP may give them too much credit–they don’t even have to bother to go through the trouble of downloading Google Earth, when any mapping program will focus to a house level of detail. We doubt it’s only the 876 scammers who have figured that out.

So, Warning One: Whatever’s being pitched, from contest prizes to long-term care insurance, if a stranger offers friendly details (“I always loved your green shutters”), they may never have set foot in this country, let alone on your street.

Warning Two shouldn’t even need to be said, but (sigh) it always bears repeating. Be rigorous about your privacy settings on the ever-changing Facebook. If you must share family photos and private information on social media, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw in some fake details as scammer alerts. If someone tries to convince you they’re calling from a circling Prize Van, and mentions how you can use the money to take your granddaughter Guinevere on vacation; if you know that Guinevere’s your cat, you’ve got a fighting chance.

Thieves--actually not glamorous--or obvious.

Thieves–actually not glamorous–or obvious.







Exoskeletons for Seniors

As we noted in a previous post, current exoskeletons are problematic because they require the use of crutches for balance. Their target customer appears to be a young-to-middle-aged person who lost lower limb function through an athletic or war-related injury.

imagesBy contrast, the European Union’s Ambient Assisted Living Program has funded research on exoskeletons specifically designed for seniors. Their criteria for successful development of “Exo-legs,” include:

  • Specialised “hands-free” locomotion support/assistance to allow elderly persons to perform their normal, wide-ranging daily activities in an independent manner.
  • Indoor mobility: moving freely within confined spaces giving considerable added value over wheelchairs, be able to perform stand-sit/sit-stand manoeuvres, climb/descend stairs, step over objects, quiet standing, straight walking, turning for centimetric/metric mobility
  • Outdoor mobility: walking/turning on uneven/unstructured surfaces/soft ground, avoiding traffic, crossing roads, taking public transport (buses, trains) to go to rural/distant places, opening/closing doors, using escalators for hectometric/kilometric mobility
  • Cognitive support: provide information/advice to allow decision making when the elderly person has become lost or confused

The project is due to conclude in 2015.



Aging in Distance

From the Chinese journal China Media Research comes a new term-of-art to consider: “Aging in Distance.” They’re contrasting “aging in place” with the experience of those who will be aging outside of their home countries, far from their native cultures and immediate families.


They are calling for papers to address the topic in a special issue of the journal to be published early next year. Deadline for abstract submission is July 25, 2014.

“We would welcome papers that enhance our understanding of how age and ageing is perceived in different cultures, what roles the mass media can play in constructing and perpetuating stereotypes about older people, how the formal model of community care can better link with the model of family care to form a culturally appropriate age-care model for immigrants in particular and the larger population in general. Topic areas include, but not limited to, stereotypes of older people; social media and older people; cultural assumptions of ageing and age-care; communication campaigns that enhance understanding between older and younger generations, mass media coverage of older people and audience effects, and cross-cultural adjustment of older migrants.”

Just for starters, we’d say teleprescence should certainly be a candidate topic.

Satellite photo of Earth, courtesy DMSP and NASA