People, Sensors, Decisions: Customizable and Adaptive Technologies for Assistance in Healthcare
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ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems (TiiS) 2 (4): 20:1-20:36 (December 2012)

The ratio of healthcare professionals to care recipients is dropping at an alarming rate, particularly for the older population. It is estimated that the number of persons with Alzheimer's disease, for example, will top 100 million worldwide by the year 2050 Alzheimer's Disease International 2009. It will become harder and harder to provide needed health services to this population of older adults. Further, patients are becoming more aware and involved in their own healthcare decisions. This is creating a void in which technology has an increasingly important role to play as a tool to connect providers with recipients. Examples of interactive technologies range from telecare for remote regions to computer games promoting fitness in the home. Currently, such technologies are developed for specific applications and are difficult to modify to suit individual user needs. The future potential economic and social impact of technology in the healthcare field therefore lies in our ability to make intelligent devices that are customizable by healthcare professionals and their clients, that are adaptive to users over time, and that generalize across tasks and environments. A wide application area for technology in healthcare is for assistance and monitoring in the home. As the population ages, it becomes increasingly dependent on chronic healthcare, such as assistance for tasks of everyday life (washing, cooking, dressing), medication taking, nutrition, and fitness. This article will present a summary of work over the past decade on the development of intelligent systems that provide assistance to persons with cognitive disabilities. These systems are unique in that they are all built using a common framework, a decision-theoretic model for general-purpose assistance in the home. In this article, we will show how this type of general model can be applied to a range of assistance tasks, including prompting for activities of daily living, assistance for art therapists, and stroke rehabilitation. This model is a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process (POMDP) that can be customized by end-users, that can integrate complex sensor information, and that can adapt over time. These three characteristics of the POMDP model will allow for increasing uptake and long-term efficiency and robustness of technology for assistance.
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