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Studying Baby Boomers As They Retire

New tools are needed to assist the 77 million baby boomers retiring throughout the next 30 years if they are to continue to live independently. Researchers, including Smith faculty, will gauge the impact of tailored technology on the lives of the elderly. Virtual medical appointments and online dinner dates with far-away friends are among a range of technological possibilities being tested on the elderly by an interdisciplinary team led by Smith College and focused on helping the aged remain independent. The ambitious three-year project, recently funded by a $780,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), brings together social scientists with specialization in geriatric care and computer scientists with expertise in human-computer interactions.

“In the near future, the growing number of elderly in need of support to live independently will severely test the social services infrastructure,” said Phebe Sessions, Smith College School for Social Work professor and one of the project’s lead investigators. “We owe it to the elder segment of our population to meet their changing needs in a way that enriches their lives and enhances their continuing contribution to society.” Factors such as the geographic dispersal of families and the diminished mobility of the elderly create a need for technology that will connect them to family, friends and caregivers, according to Sessions. Researchers will focus on technology-aided communication in the two main areas of physical and emotional health.

The team brings together researchers from the Smith College School for Social Work, the University of Massachusetts and the Mitsubishi Electronics Research Lab (MERL) to develop and test the use of a multi-camera video tracking system and speech and sound recognition systems in the lives of the elderly. Study participants volunteer through the local Highland Valley Elder Services.

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