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Japan’s top telecoms company is developing a simple wristwatch-like device to monitor the well-being of the elderly, part of a growing effort to improve care of the old in a nation whose population is aging faster than anywhere else.

The device, worn like a watch, has a built-in camera, microphone and, which measure the pace and direction of hand movements to discern what wearers are doing – from brushing their teeth to vacuuming or making coffee.

In a demonstration at  Corp.’s research facility, the test subject’s movements were collected as data that popped up as lines on a graph – with each kind of activity showing up as different patterns of lines. Using this technology, what an elderly person is doing during each hour of the day can be shown on a chart.

The prototype was connected to a personal computer for the demonstration, but researchers said such data could also be relayed by wireless or stored in a memory card to be looked at later.

Plans for commercial use are still undecided. But similar sensors are being tested around the world as tools for elderly care.

In the U.S., the Institute on Aging at the University of Virginia has been carrying out studies in practical applications of what it calls “body area” to promote senior independent living.

What’s important is that wearable sensors be easy to use, unobtrusive, ergonomic and even stylish, according to the institute, based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Costs, safety and  are also key.

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