A new study by MU researchers aims to use sensor technology to make it safer for adults over 65 in rural areas to remain at home longer.
The Smart In-Home Sensor Technology is a system of unobtrusive devices installed in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom or other room where a participant spends a lot of time.
The depth sensor technology can detect a fall immediately and send a text message alert to a caregiver, as well as the research team. The device also records data about walking speed, respiration rate and heart rate.
“A change in walking speed by more than around 20% is potentially indicative that a fall will occur in the next two to three weeks,” said Rachel Proffitt, occupational therapist and principal investigator of the study.
The data is monitored by a team of occupational therapists, nurses and social workers over the course of a year. The professionals, as well as the participant, can look at trends in the data over time and make adjustments to treatment plans as needed, Proffitt said.
“It really gives us a picture of how the individuals function and how they’re performing in their everyday life,” she said. “Deviations from those patterns and routines really do tell us a lot about the health of an individual.”
Changes in routine, such as not leaving the house, can also be symptoms of depression or anxiety or another condition, which the team of professionals can detect and encourage the individual to seek help.
“With older adults, it really is to prevent that decline that happens as people age and to be able to keep them in their homes,” Proffitt said. “If this system is something that can help them stay even just a couple years longer and prevent potentially costly medical care, I feel like that means it’s successful.”
Participants say they value the monitoring and ability for the system to provide a rapid response.
“It does give me a little peace of mind,” said Nancy Eichholz, who has had the sensors installed in her home for around three months. “I don’t find it to be any kind of problem.”