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
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.