How Sensors help Seniors Live Independently

With the benefits of medical science and increased awareness, people are now living longer than their ancestors did. Along with longer living, they also desire to live as independently as possible in their senior years. However, certain risks are part of independent lifestyles. These include inadequate care resulting in deteriorating health and debilitating falls. Researchers are addressing these issues by developing smart homes. They are using sensors and other devices and technologies for enhancing the safety of residents while monitoring their health conditions.

In-home sensors permit unobtrusive monitoring of individuals. That offers enormous potential for providing timely interventions and for improving the health trajectory, because health problems can be detected early, before they become more serious. Therefore, individuals are assured of continued high functional ability, independence with better health outcomes.

University of Missouri has an ongoing project in HAS or Health Alert Systems using sensor technology. They are testing HAS in senior housing in Cedar Falls, Iowa and in Columbia, Mo. They presently use motion sensors to monitor activity, acoustic and vision sensors for fall detection, Kinetic depth images for gait analysis and webcams for silhouette images. They have a new hydraulic bed sensor to capture quantitative restlessness, respiration and pulse. HAS also uses pattern recognition algorithms for detecting pattern changes in the data collected by sensors. Based on this, HAS can generate health alerts and forward them to clinicians, who diagnose them further to determine appropriate intervention.

Researchers at the university are evaluating the usability and effectiveness of HAS for managing chronic heath conditions. They are presently testing the HAS at remote sites, away from healthcare providers. Researchers expect this approach will provide important information on ways to scale up the system into other settings. According to the researchers, the next big step will be to move the system into independent housing where most seniors prefer to be. This will also offer significant potential healthcare cost savings, enabling seniors to live independently.

This research will improve the health care and the quality of life for older adults. Researchers are focusing on newer approaches for assisting health care providers in identifying potential health problems early. This will offer a model in eldercare technology, which will keep seniors independent while at the same time, reducing healthcare expenses. The project also has a plan – It will train the next generation of researchers in handling real, cyber-physical systems. It will mentor students through an interdisciplinary team, while the research outcomes are integrated into the classroom teachings.

Similar efforts are also under research in other places. For example, researchers at the Intel Labs, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, are working on ways of taking out the drudgery involved in housework. They are presently designing HERB or Home Exploring Robotic Butler, a smart and resourceful robot. According to the researchers, HERB will be able to walk into a room, assess its layout and move about by itself.

Researchers at Intel Labs believe disabled and senior citizens will adopt robot butlers early on, as they most need help around the house.