Intel and the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland are teaming up to create technologies that help seniors live at home. The three-year, $30 million collaboration establishes the TRIL (Technology Research for Independent Living) Centre, where researchers from Intel and Irish universities will create devices that can keep elderly people engaged in their communities, detect and prevent falls, and help those with failing memory to maintain their independence.
For example, people with memory loss could be supplied with phones that display not only the callers picture but also details about the caller and their previous conversations with that person. Technologies already are available that monitor how frequently an elderly person opens a medicine cabinet, refrigerator or bedroom door and that alert caregivers of signs of trouble.
Intel has been touting its work for at-home health services for years now. It has produced demos ranging from video screens for elderly patients to communicate with caregivers to sophisticated coordination tests that track symptoms of Parkinsons disease and detect when medications should be changed. Other technologies include cell phones that could detect quavers and other changes in an elderly persons voice, warning the person to see a doctor and thereby address a potential neurological disorder in its early stages.
Last week, Intel announced a $1 million collaboration with the Oregon Health & Science University to develop technologies that detect "behavioral markers" that can sense when an elderly person needs help. Such technologies could help the elderly live independently longer. The term "behvaioral markers" is similar to the term "biomarkers," which people in the preventive-disease community use to describe physiological signals that can serve as early warnings of disease.
Ireland is perfectly poised for such research, according to a statement released by Intel, because it has a young, educated workforce, along with easy access to Europes elderly. By some estimates, about one in three Europeans will be over the age of 65 by 2050. However, Intel also hopes people with disabilities can use its technologies as well.
Anne-Sophie Parent, director of the European Older Peoples Platform, praised the center for its foresight. "The vast majority of older people want to age in place (live in their own homes)," she said. "Technology that allows them to do this will help them live more independent lives."
Intel hopes that patients will pay for its devices in much the same way that they currently pay for other medical devices. However, the telehealth industry is struggling with business models, as both insurers and private individuals often prove reluctant to foot the bills for such devices and services.
But Intel is betting that the numbers are on its side. "There were 600 million seniors in 2000; there will be 1.2 billion seniors by 2025 and more than 2 billion by 2050," said Eric Dishman, manager of Intels Health Research & Innovation Group, as he introduced the new center. According to a market report released last year, the market for digital home health services could exceed $2 billion by 2010. Thats up from a mere $450 million in 2005. Still, the number pales in comparison with sales of blockbuster drugs, which can top $20 billion a year.