Ask most seniors what they want as they age and many will tell you their hope is to maintain their independence. No one wants to be restricted to assisted living facilities and very few wish to live with their children. Now, technology can help seniors avoid those fates and remain independent without sacrificing the level of care they would get in those other environments.
Home sensing is an emerging area of research that uses passive sensing technology that can detect motion, luminance, pressure, temperature and vibration. The data collected from these sensors makes up what one research team at the University of South Florida building a product known simply as HomeSense calls, “the language of a home.”
“We’re at a place with our data collection that if you’ve had a change in your normal activities, we can detect that your patterns are not the usual for you,” Dr. Carla Vandeweerd, one of the HomeSense project’s lead researchers said on The Health IT Beat podcast. “[This way] you can receive some follow up care, be reached out to by a case manager who can check that things are okay to make sure you’re not having mobility issues, or are you not feeling well? If there is an issue we need to address, we can do something about it very early on.”
By establishing norms for an individual in terms of their activities of daily living, software and individuals the senior grants permission to see this data, such as care teams, close friends and family, can then discover when there has been a deviation from the norms. If the door to an older adult’s liquor cabinet is opening far more frequently in recent months, that may be a sign of depression to someone who knows that individual well. If their toilet is flushing far more times than usual or their lights staying on at all hours of the night, concerned caregivers may see this data as a red flag pointing to a larger health issue.
Additionally, the issue of seniors suffering from conditions that lead to roaming out of the house at night may be addressed by the system being set to provide automatic alerts should the door open after certain hours. Bed sensors can trigger alerts if the subject gets out of bed in the middle of the night and does not return to bed for several hours or if they fail to get out of bed at all in the morning.
Additionally, the system allows for opportunities to gauge brain health. By simply asking questions of the senior resident about their day-to-day life, researchers can begin to measure how well the senior is functioning in terms of memory or cognition by contrasting it against the data.
Someone in the early stages of dementia may not remember how many trips they made to the refrigerator in a day or whether or not they showered this morning, but thanks to the sensors, care teams can begin notice when the senior’s self-reporting doesn’t match the data. This can provide valuable clues for the care team and help them intervene to slow the progression neurodegenerative conditions.
Systems also have the ability to provide data analytics and visualizations, delivered via an application to caregivers, family and the resident in near real time.
Home sensing systems come in different shapes and sizes, but typically, seniors have told researchers developing the technology some common things, such as they don’t want to be videotaped or have sound recorded in their house. Some technologies are simply considered too invasive.
By using a simple array of commercially available sensors, the cost is manageable for the end user. The team involved with the University of South Florida project estimates that their platform can be deployed in a house for a cost as low as $400-$600, a manageable price even for seniors living with smaller budgets.