Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wii Fit brings yoga poses to couch potatoes

Anyone who has ever gone a few rounds of virtual boxing, or pitched a few virtual innings, knows that fitness sometimes counts when playing the Nintendo Wii. Now Nintendo is taking gaming-exercise combination a step further, with plans to bring a fitness version of the Wii console -- the Wii Fit -- to U.S. stores in May.

Key to the device is a weight-and-motion sensing Balance Board, used for activities including aerobics, stretches, yoga, and games.

While a game console is unlikely to replace the expertise of trainers, aerobics or yoga instructors, and in fact may bring on some poor form and habits for some users, the Wii Fit could help thousands make the health-critical connection between fitness and fun. And that's all good.

Post from Good Morning Silicon Valley

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Don't be like Homer: You're brain needs a workout too...

The US Car Care Council released a list of tips on how to take care of your car and “save big money at the pump in 2008.”

You may not have paid much attention to this announcement. Yes, it’s important to save gas these days; but, it’s not big news that good maintenance habits will improve the performance of a car, and extend its life.

If we can all agree on the importance of maintaining our cars that get us around town, what about maintaining our brains sitting behind the wheel?

A spate of recent news coverage on brain fitness and “brain training” has missed an important constituency: younger people. Recent advancements in brain science have as tremendous implications for teenagers and adults of all ages as they do for seniors.

In a recent conversation with neuroscientist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University, he related how surprised he was when, years ago, a reporter from Seventeen magazine requested an interview. The reporter told Dr. Stern that he wanted to write an article to motivate kids to stay in school and not to drop out, in order to start building their Cognitive Reserve early and age more gracefully.

What is the Cognitive Reserve?

Emerging research since the 90s from the past decade shows that individuals who lead mentally stimulating lives, through their education, their jobs, and also their hobbies, build a “Cognitive Reserve” in their brains. Only a few weeks ago another study reinforced the value of intellectualy demanding jobs.

Stimulating the brain can literally generate new neurons and strengthen their connections which results in better brain performance and in having a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Studies suggest that people who exercise their mental muscles throughout their lives have a 35-40% less risk of manifesting Alzheimer’s.

As astounding as these insights may be, most Americans still devote more time to changing the oil, taking a car to a mechanic, or washing it, than thinking about how to maintain, if not improve, their brain performance.

Further, better brain scanning techniques like fMRI (glossary) are allowing scientists to investigate healthy live brains for the first time in history. Two of the most important findings from this research are that our brains are plastic (meaning they not only create new neurons but also can change their structure) throughout a lifetime and that frontal lobes are the most plastic area. Frontal lobes, the part of our brains right behind the forehead, controls "executive functions" --- which determine our ability to pay attention, plan for the future and direct behavior toward achieving goals. They are critical for adapting to new situations. We exercise them best by learning and mastering new skills.

This part of the brain is delicate: our frontal lobes wait until our mid to late 20s to fully mature. They are also the first part of our brain to start to decline, usually by middle age.

In my view, not enough young and middle-aged people are benefiting from this emerging research, since it has been perceived as something “for seniors.” Granted, there are still many unknowns in the world of brain fitness and cognitive training, we need more research, better assessments and tools. But, this does not mean we cannot start caring for our brains today.
Recent studies have shown a tremendous variability in how well people age and how, to a large extent, our actions influence our rate of brain improvement and/or decline. The earlier we begin the better. And it is never too late.

What can we do to maintain our brain, especially the frontal lobes? Focus on four pillars of brain health: physical exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and brain exercise. Stress management is important since stress has been shown to actually kill neurons and reduce the rate of creation of new ones. Brain exercises range from low-tech (i.e. meditation, mastering new complex skills, lifelong learning and engagement) to high-tech (i.e. using the growing number of brain fitness software programs).

I know, this is starting to sound like those lists we all know are good for us but we actually don’t do. Let me make it easier by proposing a new New Year Resolution for 2008: every time you wash your car or have it washed in 2008, ask yourself, "What have I done lately to maintain my brain?"

Repost from SharpBrains

Monday, January 07, 2008

Keeping An Eye On Grandma Over the Internet

Repost from TechCrunch
There are probably hundreds of new products launching at CES this week, but one that caught my eye has nothing to do with LCD screens or mobile ad platforms. A Sunnyvale, California startup called 4HomeMedia announced the availability of a broadband home health monitoring service called Home HealthPoint. It provides a way for family members or other caregivers to monitor an elderly person’s activities at home (through a box that talks to a broadband modem and sensors in the house) and receive alerts if something is amiss.

According to the press release:
By creating a passive monitoring network around a senior in their normal home setting, both family members and professional care-givers can log into a personalized Web page and get historical trend data, real-time status updates, and proactive alerts about the health and well-being for that monitored elder

The recommended starter kit for the IL service includes the Home HealthPoint, three motion detectors, and an emergency pendant. The motion detectors are strategically placed around the home during the professional installation in the bedroom, at the entrance to the primary bathroom, and in the main trafficked area such as a foyer or living room. Additional sensor devices such as additional motion detectors, access contacts on the refrigerator or doors, a smart pillbox, or IP cameras can be utilized to supplement the monitoring data sets being produced within the home.

Grandma can also plug in medical devices such as a digital weight scale, a blood-pressure cuff, or a glucose meter. The startup envisions this service being sold by broadband providers like cable or phone companies for an extra $30 to $100 a month, “a bargain in comparison to the on average $72,000 annual fee for transitioning a senior into an assisted living facility.”

That’s right, folks. Put an emergency pendant on Grandma, set up those motion detectors, and you can put off the nursing home for another three to five years. Want to check in on her without actually, you know, calling her? Just check the Webcam.

I can’t decide whether this represents a step forward or backwards for civilization. On the one hand, there is no doubt that something like this could definitely help improve healthcare for the elderly. Many live at home alone and an early warning system (Is Grandma eating regularly? Is she taking her pills? Has she been in bed all day?) could be a true life saver.

On the other hand, checking on whether an elderly parent is functioning normally is not the same as checking to see if your home alarm went off or you remembered to turn off the lights. (4HomeMedia also offers home-automation and remote media-management software based on the same technology). There is a limit to how much remote monitoring can be relied upon when it comes to healthcare. This is certainly better than no monitoring at all, but I wonder if it will result in giving people a false sense of security or making some elderly folks feel even more isolated than they do today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Senior citizens embrace technology

Verne Biehl, 79, first learned to play the piano when he was 12 years old, but he took lessons only a year and later regretted not being able to play well.
Nearly 67 years have passed since he first had an opportunity to return to study the instrument he always loved.

Except, now his lessons are taught on a digital piano.

Technology has caught up with Verne Biehl and he is taking it in stride.

"The digital piano is interesting, a little different than a straight piano,” said this Marietta resident. It feels much different than my manual one.”

For millions of Americans who grew up without computers or the Internet, cell phones, iPods, global positioning systems, digital cameras (remember the flash bulb?) Nintendo or even a television, catching up with technology can be a daunting challenge.

“If you don't learn about it, you feel like you've been left behind,” said Karen Burfield of Marietta. “I'm just learning about the computer. My three daughters are encouraging me. I do e-mail and look things up.”

Burfield and Biehl are among a steadily growing army of seniors who are eagerly accepting the challenge and diving into the technical “soup.”

Both take classes at the O'Neill Senior Center in Marietta, introducing them to new technologies and to sharpen their basic skills.

For Burfield, the handwriting was on the wall when the doctor's office where she had worked for years, suddenly turned up with computers. It was do or die.

“I had to get on the computer to look things up,” she said. “I learned the basics.”
After she retired in 2003, Burfield joined a creative writing class at O'Neill Center and used the computer to help facilitate her writing.

“I'm really still just learning about it,” she said. “It helps me with writing. The one thing I hate is when something goes wrong and I have to ask for help.”

Read the entire article at The Marietta Times

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Frail seniors embrace home monitoring

When John Fowlkes’s adult daughter suggested installing an electronic monitoring system in his apartment to oversee his well-being from afar, “I was very skeptical,” he says. To Fowlkes, 86, who has an active social life including an 80-year-old girlfriend, the idea evoked thoughts of Big Brother.

Mindful that a younger friend had fallen at home and lain on the floor for hours before anyone came to help, Fowlkes, of Raleigh, N.C., gave in. To his surprise, he found the setup “makes you feel more secure.”
Overseeing the aged from afar is a hot issue for working caregivers, and the technology needed to do so is available. But policy makers and others have long fretted that seniors would resist electronic monitoring as an invasion of privacy.

Now, Big Brother has arrived — and seniors are rolling out the welcome mat. As vendors make in-home monitoring systems widely available, seniors are mounting little resistance, and many are embracing the gadgetry as an aid to remaining independent.

Home-monitoring customers total a few thousand nationwide, according to half a dozen monitoring companies I surveyed. The most common systems use wireless motion or contact sensors on doorways, windows, walls, ceilings, cabinets, refrigerators, appliances or beds to track seniors’ movements. Temperature sensors gauge heat and air conditioning. If an elderly person enters the bathroom and doesn’t come out, or other typical activity patterns aren’t recorded in the home, word can be sent to family members, 24-hour response workers or both. The systems also offer hand-held or wearable “panic buttons.”

The QuietCare system used by Fowlkes is monitored by response workers. His daughter, Alisa Washington, who lives nearby, receives e-mail updates several times a day at work. She says it gives her “much greater peace of mind.”

Seniors draw the line at some kinds of surveillance. Many protest against the presence of video cameras, says DR. Majd Alwan, who conducted several small studies of monitoring systems as a professor at the University of Virginia. They see motion and contact sensors as less invasive, says Alwan, now director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies, Washington, D.C., a nonprofit research group.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Brainpower now obsolete thanks to GPS and iTunes

The gurus seek bliss amid mountaintop solitude and serenity in the meditative trance, but I, grasshopper, have achieved the oneness with the universe that is known as pure externalization.

I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a GPS.

Like many men, I quickly established a romantic attachment to my GPS. I found comfort in her tranquil and slightly Anglophilic voice. I felt warm and safe following her thin blue line. More than once I experienced her mercy, for each of my transgressions would be greeted by nothing worse than a gentle, "Make a U-turn if possible."

After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I could no longer get anywhere without her. Any trip slightly out of the ordinary had me typing the address into her system and then blissfully following her satellite-fed commands. I found that I was quickly shedding all vestiges of geographic knowledge.

It was unnerving at first, but then a relief. Since the dawn of humanity, people have had to worry about how to get from here to there. Precious brainpower has been used storing directions, and memorizing turns. I myself have been trapped at dinner parties at which conversation was devoted exclusively to the topic of commuter routes.

My GPS goddess liberated me from this drudgery. She enabled me to externalize geographic information from my own brain to a satellite brain, and you know how it felt? It felt like nirvana.
Through that experience I discovered the Sacred Order of the External Mind. I realized I could outsource those mental tasks I didn't want to perform. Life is a math problem, and I had a calculator.

Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. Musical taste? I have externalized it. Now I just log on to iTunes and it tells me what I like.
Personal information? I've externalized it. I'm no longer clear on where I end and my BlackBerry begins. When I want to look up my passwords or contact my friends I just hit a name on my directory. I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can't remember their own phone number. Their smart phones are smart, so they don't need to be. Today's young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it.

Now, you may wonder if in the process of outsourcing my thinking I am losing my individuality. Not so. My preferences are more narrow and individualistic than ever. It's merely my autonomy that I'm losing.

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain't got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind - one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don't matter, Ma. I'll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I'll be there. Wherever there's a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I'll be there. Wherever there's a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I'll be there. I'll be in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture. And when memes are spreading, and humiliation videos are shared on Facebook - I'll be there, too.

I am one with the external mind. Om.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday technology gifts for the 65+ seniors

Tech pundits weren't surprised when Nintendo's Wii videogame console became an instant hit with kids last year. But Grandma and Grandpa playing Wii games for hours in retirement homes across the country? A complete shock.

But Nintendo says the Wii's popularity among the over-65 crowd wasn't totally unexpected because the game, which simulates sports like bowling and tennis, is "intuitive ... not intimidating," said Perrin Kaplan, vice-president of marketing and corporate affairs at Nintendo of America.

Yep. Make it super-easy to use, and even the most tech-phobic seniors will come. The Wii console is the size of a remote control, and seniors swing it in front of a computerised image of a bowling alley or tennis court.

Erickson Retirement Communities discovered that Wii games were fun and good exercise for seniors in its retirement homes, because swinging the remote simulates motions people use when playing for real. With Wii tennis, "it's so hard for you not to move and simulate your tennis strokes," said Antonio Galvan, a program manager at an Erickson facility in Naperville.
In addition to Wii, YouTube, that bastion of quirky, homemade videos aimed at hipsters, has become another place for oldsters to hang out. Look for "senior citizen" on YouTube, and more than 1,000 videos pop up.

One video, titled "Senior Citizens Bah Hum Bug!," is a monologue by a senior pontificating about the bad rap he and his peers get for being old. Another video, "Gulfport Senior Citizens Harmonica Club," shows seniors tooting with glee. Erickson also uploaded a video of its residents playing Wii bowling.

"It's fun to watch seniors in competition," Galvan said. "The competitive vibe is very much alive. It's fun to watch the trash talking.”

There are also a slew of companies making tech products just for seniors. Jitterbug, a cellphone with large key pads, and Tek Partner, an oversized remote control that's "easy to use, easy to see, impossible to lose," according to its ad, are a few products targeted to the elderly.
Joyce Roberts, 63, isn't technically a senior yet, but she got a Jitterbug last May because the keys on her old cellphone were too tiny to see and she didn't need all the bells and whistles it came with. Jitterbug is "super-simple," said the Del Mar, California, resident. "I just wanted a phone. I didn't want to play games, take pictures or surf the Web."

Eons, a social networking site for "adults lovin' life on the flip side of 50," focuses on baby boomer concerns, and aging is a big topic. Founder and Chief Executive Jeff Taylor said the site's longevity calculator is its most popular feature. A user answers 40 questions online, and, based on the user's current health and lifestyle, the calculator spits out the age he or she will live to. The calculator also offers suggestions on how to become healthier.

While many seniors may shun technology, some take to it avidly. Richard Anderson, 74, practically lives online and is more tech-savvy than some people half his age. The Florida retiree banks online, files taxes online, books travel online and views football games on his computer while watching another game on TV. He also uses Google's Picasa2 and Microsoft's Picture It to design his own greeting cards from digital photos. And Internet phone service Skype keeps him connected to family in Virginia and Minnesota.

Experts say more tech-loving seniors like Anderson are on the horizon as baby boomers, who are used to using technology at work and at home reach retirement age, setting the stage for a huge number of older tech users. Andrew Carle, director of the Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration programme at George Mason University in Fairfax., said, "Older boomers will seek tech, and they will expect it."

From Sify