New Technology for Ongoing In-Home Health Assessment

Researchers and practitioners in the field of aging must be able to detect individual change in health status over time. Current methodology in the study of such change involves occasional home visits that are likely inadequate for assessing an individual’s ongoing state. This method depends on the information collected on these occasional visits, and an individual’s recall of events taking place between visits, which can represent health and activity status. These limitations make it difficult to reliably detect changes that predict functional and cognitive decline.

New “smart home” technology, however, might enable unobtrusive, continuous monitoring of health status to help detect the early onset of health problems, as well as for general health and aging research. An article in the Journals of Gerontology describes a new, ongoing study that employs “an unobtrusive home-based assessment” in the homes of hundreds of community-dwelling older adults.

This study, called Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Changes (ISAAC), will determine the efficacy of using continuous, unobtrusive monitoring to detect changes in cognitive ability and activity among older adults. It is hoped that such monitoring will enable researchers to develop new measures to detect cognitive and functional change that will improve our understanding of aging, and help identify warning signs for health problems.

Preliminary findings suggest that such monitoring may be feasible and useful for researchers. In the first 142 weeks, only six percent of the participating households withdrew from the study for reasons that included discomfort with the sensors and study procedures, and general household changes. Twenty-three of the twenty-four participants who relocated during the study chose to have the system reinstalled in their new home. Some important differences in the quality of data collected via continuous monitoring in comparison to standard in-home or clinical visits are apparent. For example, preliminary findings suggest that measurements of walking speed obtained through continuous monitoring are lower than those usually collected in typical walking speed assessments. This article suggests that advances in “smart home” technology and ubiquitous computing may improve the understanding and assessment of changing health status.

Source: Kaye, J.A.; Maxwell, S.A.; Mattek, N.; Hayes, T.L.; Dodge, H.; Pavel, M.; Jimison, H.B.; Wild, K.; Boise, L.; and Zitzelberger, T.A. (2011). “Intelligent Systems for Assessing Aging Changes: Home-Base, Unobtrusive, and Continuous Assessment of Aging.” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66B(51):i80-i90.

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