From Touch Pads To Electronic Pill Dispensers, Old Folks Turn To New Tech

As the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, high-tech is gradually making its way into the lives – and homes – of older folks. A look at the tablets, sensors, foot boards and other gadgets seniors can use to get caught up and connected.

From Touch Pads To Electronic Pill Dispensers, Old Folks Turn To New Tech
Laure Belot

PARIS -- The classic alarm button worn around the necks of some 450,000 French seniors is starting to look dated. All over France, more cutting edge ways of calling for emergency help are being tested: tablets, sensors, and intelligent watches. Mere gadgets? Not really.

Surprising but true: the touch tablet is well-adapted to older people, even the least tech-oriented. No cables, no complicated data structures, just single-function touch points. The result is that tablets can be used as an all-purpose communication tool: to keep up with the news, check the weather, play games, or conduct video conference calls with one's children, grand-children, and home-bound friends.

The tablet is also useful in linking various care givers, from nurses to home health aides. Again, videoconferencing can be used for group calls with friends or doctors and to transmit physiological data -- such as weight and blood sugar level -- to doctors.

If the market is just emerging, the results look promising. Serviligne, founded in 2008, has installed several hundred tablets in Nice, Marseille, Strasbourg, and Grenoble. As a complementary service, the company provides each user with the name of an association that makes maintenance house-calls, Olivier Clément, Serviligne's director, explains.

Competitor Intervox, which has been bought by Legrand, the world leader in electric sockets, has for several months been conducting tests with tablets involving 300 people in Creuse. And in Haute-Vienne, an invitation to bid has been launched to equip several hundred households. Orange Labs also has a special "senior" tablet, as does the start-up Ezodis. Ezodis premiered its "TVsentiel" terminal in 25 homes in Val-de-Marne with the backing of the Val-de-Marne General Council.

And Japanese giant Toshiba, which leads a consortium in the Bas-Rhin, has just equipped some 15 retirement homes. This ambitious experimental project, geared to future telemedical plans, is considered to be "a global test that could be duplicated in Japan as well as other European countries," says Jeannot Allouche, who is piloting the project. The cost to each person is between 40 and 60 euros a month. A prerequisite is that the home already be connected to the Internet and have an Orange, Free, Numericable, Darty or other modem (cost around 30 euros per month).

High-tech help is on the way

Every year, 450,000 seniors who have suffered falls end up in the emergency room. Falls are the first cause of death by accident for those over 65. Available from Legrand is a "light path" for home use made up of several infrared sensors mounted on the walls to activate the lights when a person gets up during the night, to go to the toilet for example. The system, which was trial-tested in Creuse, reduced the number of falls by 30% and costs a few hundred euros.

Its competitor Osram, in partnership with Diroy, has come up with a universal foot board called Sweet Light that is slated to be launched in January 2012. It consists of a movement sensor and lighting and costs 150 euros. When the room is dark, one foot out of bed and the lighting goes on. Versions that function both day and night are also available.

They aren't any larger than a coin and can be installed anywhere in the house. They can also be worn. Thus, captors that record a serious fall, or activity, are worn on the wrist like a watch. The bracelet may contain a shock detector, an accelerometer that measures the speed of movements, and a pressure sensor. At the least sign of something unusual, a signal is sent to the monitoring center. Among those selling the devices are Orange, Toshiba, General Electric, Intervox, Vivago, and Senioralerte.

At the least sign of something unusual, a signal is sent to the monitoring center. Other sensors mounted on the walls detect certain gases (carbon monoxide, butane, propane), smoke, flooding, or drops in temperature. A classic assistance plan costs around 20 euros a month plus an additional charge per sensor installed.

Already well-installed in the United States and the UK, electronic pill dispensers are also making their way into seniors' daily lives in France. Four times a day, a dispenser bell rings reminding the person to take their medication. If they don't, the bell sounds again.

But don't these objects, conceived as aids for medical or social service teams, risk dehumanizing the daily life of older people even more? Experiments show that, contrary to expectations, older people are fairly open to such aids if they are paired with human contact. The problems lie elsewhere.

The new technologies are in the process of revolutionizing the balance of inter-generational relationships. "People have to accept relating to the older members of the family in different ways," says Didier Courquin of Intervox. Some older folks with tablets think their tablets are malfunctioning because having sent e-mails to their children or grandchildren they fail to get a response.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Ollie Grafoord

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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