In a world of fast-paced technology and innovative recovery plans for patients, Rachel Proffitt saw an opportunity.

From her occupational therapy work among a range of demographics, she noticed that patients responded better to programs that were not only individualized but also entertaining.

She began to look at ways to incorporate video games into her treatment plans for patients. While playing games they enjoyed, she was still able to track and assess their movements.

When the Xbox Kinect was discontinued, Proffitt began to study the use of infrared cameras and depth sensors to customize plans for patients recovering from strokes and help an aging population keep track of their health.

This system involves tracking the movements of those who have suffered a stroke and collect data to feed into an algorithm and track movement-quality trends.

The goal of the study is to allow the devices to monitor patients so they can remain independent.

Proffitt describes the process as similar to an Amazon Alexa, where the more data entered, the better the tracking system performs. So far, researchers have been able to set up a fall detection system and a method to see if a patient’s progress is on track.

Proffitt said she hopes this technology and the future of precision medicine will help Baby Boomers remain independent in their own homes while being watched by caregivers outside the home.

How sensors work

In the homes of those involved in the study, the depth sensors have beams that track a patient’s movements and collect data about the quality of those movements. That data goes into an algorithm that then compiles a set of trends about the movements.

“After, when we get the action segments, we can use the data recorded to do an assessment,” said Mengxuan Ma, a research assistant at MU who has been in charge of collecting the data for the project.

Ma said the device begins to recognize a person’s movements to provide doctors with helpful information to aid their recovery plans. This information can show doctors and therapists what movements are smooth and which ones need more attention.

“The goal is if you know the person pretty well, then you know the problem pretty well; you can solve it better. If you know your patient pretty well ... then the doctor may provide more personalized treatment,” Ma said.

Proffitt said the technology does need time to begin to see trends in a patient’s movement.

“It starts to learn that person, and we can deliver health care in a more precise manner,” she said.

The future

Proffitt reflects on her own parents when she talks about the future of using this technology.

“My parents are almost 70 at this point, and as they start getting older, I know that they’re going to want to stay in their house. I want to make sure they’re doing OK.”

The system can notify the researchers and caregivers if there are signs of trouble, and Proffitt said she hopes early detection will be enough to give medical professionals time to intervene.

Proffitt and her colleagues use the technology to help those in rural areas who do not have access to extended health care stays.

“We can pair the technology with established interventions in which we modify parts of their (discharged patients) home environment to make it easier for them to live,” she said. “It would help eliminate barriers for them to live in their homes independently.”

Ma said this device will be beneficial to those who cannot go into a clinical setting regularly to be evaluated.

“Some patients can only go to clinic once a week or a few hours a month. They may live really far away from a clinic. So if we can have this method to send a patient’s information to the doctor or therapist, we can provided a clinical assessment of this patient,” she said.

Ma said she believes the ability to provide health care professionals with specific data will lead to patients getting quality, individualized care.

It could get to the point where it can show signs that someone might have a decline in their overall health, Proffitt said. This can be done by tracking their long-term movement speed, range of motion and activity levels.

The study will be done in August 2021, and Proffitt said anyone who has suffered a stroke and wants join the study can contact her at proffittrm@health.missouri.edu. Researchers will install the device and provide internet service for three months if a home has no broadband.

  • Community reporter, spring 2020. Studying arts and culture magazine writing. Reach me at mmrxdt@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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