Future assistive devices

Advances in computing power, the Internet, wireless technologies, and battery power are making it possible to design electronic devices that will serve multiple functions: operate appliances, open doors, close and open drapes, provide reminders for medications, and much more (Mann, 2004). At the University of Florida, the Rehabilitation Engineering Research

Center on Technology for Successful Aging (www. rerc.ufl.edu) is developing voice activated computer applications as well as auditory and visual alerts that accomplish all of these tasks and provide alerts, such as when mail is delivered, or doors are left unlocked. Products or applications such as these will be available in the very near future.

Combining these advanced technologies in a home setting provides even more potential applications. For with the neurologically disabled, behavior could be tracked by adding sensors throughout the home. Sensors and "intelligence" programmed into the home will make it possible to determine if the occupant had not risen from bed, had a sleepless night, or had not eaten - all of which could trigger an alert to a family member or a formal care provider. Smart homes such as these will also help a person with a cognitive impairment by providing prompts through everyday activities, reminders to drink, and to take meals or medications.

While the future promises a new generation of assistive devices, and "assistive environments," the basic assistive devices we have described in this chapter can make a very large difference for a person who has a neurologic injury or disease - helping them maintain their independence and quality of life. The need for careful assessment, typically by an occupational therapist, cannot be overly stressed. Selection of appropriate devices, training in their use, and continued follow-up are essential.

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