Motion Sensors to Detect Age-Related Disease

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Researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland have developed a motion tracking system that is intended to assist in detecting age-related disease in elderly people. The system could be installed in someone’s home or in assisted-living facilities, and consists of a series of motion sensors that can monitor for signs of unusual movement. The system can inform caregivers if an emergency arises, such as a fall, which can be detected when someone does not return to their bed at night or is stationary for a long period, for example. However, the researchers also envisage it as helping to provide early detection for a variety of health issues, including sleep problems, cardiac arrhythmias, a worsening COVID-19 infection, or cognitive impairment.    

As our population ages, we will need to develop new solutions to keep people as healthy as possible for as long as possible. It is not practical to provide round the clock care for every aging person, but technology may be poised to provide the next best thing – a lookout. This is the motivation behind this latest technology, a motion sensing system for use at home or in healthcare facilities.

Most previous attempts to provide monitoring for vulnerable aging patients have involved wearables. While these pieces of equipment can be very effective, they are only effective if they are used properly and consistently. At the risk of generalizing, older people can sometimes struggle with new technologies, particularly if they have cognitive issues or problems with dexterity. Consequently, the need to wear and perhaps interact with a wearable can pose a problem in terms of compliance and effective use.

To address this, this latest approach is completely non-invasive and does not require input from the monitored person. Instead, a series of motion detectors are installed in someone’s living quarters, along with door sensors, a sensor in their bed, and one on their refrigerator. “We used non-contact sensors at home to create an extensive collection of digital measures that capture broad parts of daily life, behavior and physiology, in order to identify health risks of older people at an early stage,” said Narayan Schütz, one of the developers of the technology.   

In tests so far, the researchers report that the system is surprisingly good at helping in identifying health issues at an early stage. “We were able to show that such a systems approach — in contrast to the common use of a few health metrics — allows to detect age-relevant health problems such as cognitive impairment, fall risk or frailty surprisingly well,” said Tobias Nef, another researcher involved in the study.

While the system may sound like something out of 1984, the researchers are keen to point out the data security and privacy aspects of their technology. The sensors do not record video or sound, and the data are protected to medical data security standards. Moreover, installation in someone’s room or house is conceived as completely voluntary.  

Study in journal npj Digital Medicine: A systems approach towards remote health-monitoring in older adults: Introducing a zero-interaction digital exhaust

Via: University of Bern

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