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How sensors in homes tracking movements could improve lives

Researchers hope the study can allow older people to live on their own for longer, avoid hospital and receive early treatment for a range of conditions.

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By Lilli Humphrey via SWNS

Sensors placed in the home to track movements could give an early warning for dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or heart problems, according to a new study from Switzerland.

Researchers found that specific changes in our movement patterns can be indicators of health problems.

And they hope that the study can allow older people to live on their own for longer, avoid hospital and even receive early treatment for a range of conditions.

The sensors did not record sound or video and their installation for the study was entirely voluntary. (University of Bern via SWNS)

They used 1,268 non-interaction sensors tailored to the age of the participants.

The contactless motion sensors were put into each room, along with bed sensors underneath mattresses, and door sensors on the front door and fridge.

They were connected to a base station so that the system could analyze the registered motion signals.

First author Dr. Naryan Schutz, of the ARTOG Centre for Biomedical Engineering, University of Bern, Switzerland, said: “We used non-contact sensors at home to create an extensive collection of digital measures that capture broad parts of daily life, behavior and physiology, in order to identify health risks of older people at an earlier stage."

Research author Professor Tobias Nef added: “Compared to wearable devices, this sensor-based home monitoring approach was perceived well among seniors.

"We were able to show that such a systems approach, in contrast to the common use of a few health metrics, allows to detect age-relevant health problems such as cognitive impairment, fall risk or frailty surprisingly well."

In older people, a decrease in strength often correlates with a risk of falls, mild cognitive impairment, depression, sleep problems, respiratory problems, an irregular heartbeat – increasing muscle and heart weakness.

The researchers combined a variety of everyday activities and behavior patterns measured by sensors in the homes of elderly study participants to help them create a summary picture.

The study will help early detection, as well as the development of treatments and research into therapeutic treatments and drugs.

Adults above 80 preferred a zero-interaction system – finding it harder to operate mobile devices due to cognitive problems or dexterity.

The sensors do not record sound or video and their installation was entirely voluntary.

The evaluation and combination of data collected may offer the potential to identify aging-relative biomarkers – signs of normal or abnormal processes in the body.

Dr. Nef added: "We found indications that fall risk could significantly depend on certain sleep parameters.

"Such a system marks a milestone in early detection of worsening health for seniors living alone into old age.

“We assume that it can make a significant contribution to enabling older people to live at home for as long as possible by delaying hospital admissions and transfers to nursing or, in the best case, even avoiding them."

According to the researchers, better early detection, and personalized treatment of typical diseases of old age would not only help older people achieve better health, but also reduce healthcare costs.

The study was published in the journal npj Digital Medicine

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