The Home You’ll Want Tracking You

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An Ottawa-based apartment laboratory is testing embedded smart-sensor technologies

From touchless soap dispensers, motion-activated lights and assistance with car parking, sensors and sensor-activated technology have been helping us in everyday life for years. Health and healthcare are also benefiting from this technology, with innovation targeting older people being one of the fastest-growing areas. In Canada, we now have an apartment laboratory resembling a typical home set up to test embedded smart-sensor technologies.

The Sensors and Analytics for Monitoring Mobility and Memory (SAM3) hub, launched recently by the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE), Bruyère Research Institute and Carleton University, is meant to advance the development of sophisticated sensor systems that address mobility and memory challenges among older people.

Some sensors will be able to monitor cognitive impairment, while others will screen for declining balance or strength, to predict and decrease the risk of falls.

Enter the newly-renovated apartment at Élizabeth Bruyère Hospital and you might feel like you are in a typical one-bedroom apartment. In reality, it is a laboratory loaded with sensors. Some sensors will be able to monitor cognitive impairment, while others will screen for declining balance or strength, to predict and decrease the risk of falls.

“Mobility and memory problems are among the most common challenges experienced by older adults. This unique initiative will help us to come up with new solutions that support independence and aging in place, while reducing caregiver burden,” said Dr. Alex Mihailidis, scientific director of AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network.

Helen Tang attends a demo of pressure-sensitive mats that fit under a mattress and are designed to alert seniors, caregivers and medical professionals to deviations in a person’s vital signs, activity and mobility. These mats are an example of sensor technology that will be advanced by the new hub.

The apartment is equipped with sensors that can detect, for instance, whether someone is moving around, or using the appliances. A mat, placed at the edge of the bed, can show whether a person is unstable when they rise in the morning, indicating a decline in mobility. Sensors will be added to daily objects such as a television remote control to help monitor and predict what is happening with people’s cognitive abilities, based on their ability to use such objects.

“The data coming from these non-invasive sensors can be instantly analyzed to detect and report any signs of problems among older adults before they become serious,” said Dr. Rafik Goubran, a professor of engineering at Carleton University.

Dr. Frank Knoefel, a physician in the Bruyère Memory Program at Bruyère Continuing Care and senior investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute, said “Aging is such a big, complex issue, and we need older Canadians and their caregivers, physicians, engineers, high-tech companies and others to work together on it.”

He is excited about the potential of “smart” sensors to identify changes in how people move and think as they get older, to learn patterns and intervene, if needed.

The SAM3 is the second AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub. The other hub, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, focuses on advancing policies and practices in technology and aging.