Researchers over the past 40 years have developed significant technologies to assist individuals whose bodies are challenged. Most advances have focused on aiding seeing, hearing, and navigating and moving around. The coming decades should see a comparable emphasis on helping individuals maintain a healthy mind, heart, and soul. This is especially important as the percentage of seniors continues to grow.
It is useful to think of human needs as characterized by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow speaks of levels of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (the need for meaning in one’s life). Without engaging philosophical or religious debates, we shall map the heart, the mind, and the soul onto Maslow’s top three levels. Maslow’s need for love/belonging suggests that we understand the communication patterns and needs of people who are isolated, lonely, and vulnerable because of the death of family and friends, geographic relocation, or movement into a retirement home or long-term hospital care. We shall review technologies to support family communication. There is currently a huge industry devoted to brain training exercises. These typically focus on enhancing memory and simple executive functions. We shall propose a broader view of the mind, and suggest technology designed to support activities that seniors have valued throughout their lives, for example, conversing, playing traditional games with friends, and reading, either by oneself or together with others. There are many views of what brings meaning to one’s life. We shall report on projects that employ multimedia and lifelogging technologies to help individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment be better able to remember and reminisce about experiences over a lifetime, or about recent events and activities.
In summary, we propose interventions that support cognition and communication, generate feelings of efficacy, and enhance one’s sense of identity and connectedness with family, friends, and caregivers.