When his father developed the condition, he watched his mother assume the role of constant guardian and guide, helping her husband to continue to function in the daily tasks that most of us take for granted.
"As my father lost the ability to do things for himself, my mother would give him gentle prompts to keep him on track," recalled Kautz, associate professor in the University of Washington's Department of Computer Science & Engineering. "So at a stage of the disease where, according to the clinical scales, it would seem he couldn't do anything for himself, he could still perform many of the functions of life. He could shower, get dressed, and so forth because my mother would monitor him and give a prompt when needed."
It's a recollection that has guided Kautz in initiating a research effort at the UW to explore ways in which computer science can compensate for diminished mental capacity. The Assisted Cognition Project is a collaborative effort by the UW, Intel Computers and Elite Care, a private company developing a state-of-the-art retirement community in the Portland area that utilizes so-called ubiquitous computing to keep tabs on residents' needs. The project partners envision a network of digital devices and wireless sensors in the walls of homes, in appliances and furniture, even in the clothing we wear. The devices would work together to do essentially what Kautz's mother did for his father: monitor an individual, offer prompts when appropriate and summon help when needed.
"The difference is it lessens the enormous toll this takes on a human caregiver, usually a spouse or other loved one," Kautz said.
As a first step, the UW group, which also includes computer scientists Oren Etzioni, Dieter Fox and Gaetano Borriello, has developed a prototype for a wireless handheld device, dubbed the Activity Compass, which will memorize a patient's daily rout
Contact: Rob Harrill
University of Washington