Microsoft Kinect To Help Discreetly Monitor The Elderly

By James Hawkins in Gaming News
Monday, September 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm
‚ÄčAs commercial video game technology becomes increasingly more dynamic, the machines themselves are being re-purposed to perform all sorts of non-video game related tasks. This time, the technology is being used to tackle practical, potentially life-saving, medical issues among elderly patients at hospitals, assisted living homes, and even in private domiciles.

Medical researchers at University of Missouri (Mizzou) have been researching the use of the Microsoft Kinect to help monitor at-risk elderly, particularly those living alone. Falls, health crises, and other potentially debilitating (or even deadly) instances hamper the livelihoods of elderly people in nearly every living situation, and it has become a real challenge for doctors and caregivers to monitor them closely while being respectful of their patients' privacy. The Kinect might just be the solution.

Typically, the closed-circuit camera is the primary instrument used for this purpose, which is a fairly intrusive though very effective way of monitoring how the elderly maneuver throughout their work space. But the sense of privacy is totally lost when being closely watched, and I'm sure it is hard enough being old. No one wants to feel like Winston in Orwell's 1984.

The Microsoft Kinect, however, doesn't use a typical camera to capture space. Its motion-sensor camera can monitor routine movements without actually picking up definitive pictures, thereby keeping privacy intact, while ensuring close watch on those folks most likely to hurt themselves. And, on an even cooler note, it does more than just watch for general falls and heart attacks and all that.

It appears that, when coupled with a Doppler radar, the Kinect can monitor behavior, to tell when the onset of psychological or neural decline occurs. For instance, diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and dementia can bring about subtle (and not-so subtle) changes in daily routine, or in functional movement, which can be tracked by doctors and used to help take preventative or perfunctory action.

It'll probably be a while until these sorts of devices are implemented on a large scale, but it is pretty fascinating that the same device we use to virtually chop fruit in half can be used for some sort of real, measurable good. As someone whose grandmother just moved into a retirement home by herself, I've quickly become aware that privacy in our later years is something that isn't guaranteed. That eventually we must choose between what is safe and what is comfortable. But maybe it can be both, once again.

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