Towards the end of last year studies were conducted in the Netherlands and Sweden as part of the international Iron Arm project, which is an element of the European Commission's SILVER project (Supporting Independent LiVing for the Elderly through Robotics). These studies aimed to clarify how elderly people with and without functional disabilities affecting hands or arms felt about using aids in everyday life. The studies revealed that people are willing to use an aid for the upper extremity when this will support them during the performance of ADL activities (Activities of Daily Living) and thereby achieve a greater degree of independence in everyday life. The main criteria emphasised regarding aids within the 'wearable technologies' category within med tech are the scope for using the aid throughout the day and the aid making daily tasks around the home, such as getting dressed, cooking, personal hygiene, etc., easier in a smart yet simple way. A subsequent user group meeting at Roessingh Research and Development (Enschede, the Netherlands) involving elderly people with a functional disability, researchers and occupational therapists confirmed the results of the study surveys.
User demands for reliability regarding function and design
There is generally also strong user demand for absolute reliability as regards function and safety - a requirement that appeared partly to overshadow preferences concerning appearance and an attractive design.
"Our regular contact with users and our focus group meetings give us a valuable insight into the needs and requirements associated with personal aids. The user perspective is vital when it comes to developing aids because this ensures a good end result. For that reason we always involve users in our projects, and Iron Arm is no exception," says Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo Technologies. "A good many robotics-based products are not designed and produced for use in ADL situations, but have often been developed with a specific aim or purpose in mind. It must be possible to use Iron Arm generally," continues Tomas. "There are currently no user-centric and easily available products similar to the one we are planning."
Healthcare-related wearable technologies means that the products must be wearable and must provide support and scope for active living. Within the Iron Arm project there are also close links to the care provider, who will be able to follow the user's progress and thus encourage the user to engage in additional activities. A number of those consulted during the user group meeting think that the ability of the care provider to follow up on progress and provide motivation offers an increased sense of safety and security.
More about aids for the elderly based on health robotics technology
The most important aim of aids based on health robotics is to make independent living easier. Many people suffer from reduced arm and hand functions as they grow older, owing to either reduced muscle mass or the consequences of illness.
There are currently a number of specialist aids in this field available on the market, but these are often only suitable for one particular application and therefore have little impact on overall ADL tasks.
Existing robot-based products for more general applications have a significant impact on ADL, both in terms of independence and cost savings. Studies have shown that more than 40 % of ADL tasks can be performed if this type of product is used.