Study: Sensor Technology Could Help Aging Adults Stay Independent

With age and health problems comes that inevitable question: When is it time to move into an assisted-care facility? Fortunately, researchers at the University of Missouri are trying to extend how long seniors can continue to live at home and maintain independence before addressing that question.

Motion-sensing technology has been used for several years to monitor changes in resident’s health at TigerPlace, an eldercare facility in Columbia. Now Marjorie Skubic, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the MU College of Engineering, and Marilyn Rantz, a curator’s professor of nursing in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, are expanding their work with the help of a National Science Foundation grant.

Through fiber networking and high-speed video conferencing, Missouri healthcare providers will remotely monitor the health of elderly residents in Iowa.

“Monitoring individuals with in-home sensors allows us to unobtrusively monitor their health changes based on their individual activity patterns and baseline health conditions,” Rantz said.

The system is built on proactive rather than reactive monitoring, Rantz explains. Automated data alert health providers when patients need assistance or medical interventions. Video gaming technology measures the residents’ movements at home, and hydraulic bed sensors monitor pulse, respiration and restlessness.

“Implementing the health alert system in Cedar Falls (Iowa) will tell us how the approach we use at TigerPlace compares to other settings,” Skubic said. “It will be an important step toward facilitating independent housing, which is where most seniors want to be.”

In-home sensors, such as the ones in the study, can help identify early changes in health, which is key to maintaining health, independence and function for older adults, according to Skubic and Rantz.

Find out more about interdisciplinary eldercare technology research here and here.