Research shows how sensor-based health monitoring could help address age-related health issues

Specific changes in our movement patterns can be indicators of several health issues: for example, decreased strength is often correlated with the risk of falls, mild cognitive impairment, depression, sleep problems, to breathing problems, cardiac arrhythmias, and increasing myocardial weakness or worsening of a COVID-19 infection. In the elderly, systematic detection of such changes could help identify chronic diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease or heart disease at an early stage. These age-related health problems are often discovered late and their evolution is generally difficult to assess objectively.

An interdisciplinary research team led by Tobias Nef from the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research and Emeritus Professor of Cardiology Hugo Saner from the University of Bern and University Hospital Bern, is now showing how large-scale health monitoring based on sensors could solve these problems. The researchers combined a variety of daily activities and behavioral patterns measured by sensors in the homes of older study participants, helping them to create a summary picture.

We’ve used non-contact home sensors to create a large collection of digital measurements that capture broad swaths of everyday life, behavior and physiology, to identify health risks in older adults at an early stage. .”

Dr. Narayan Schütz, study first author and postdoctoral researcher

This can benefit early detection and promote the development of personalized treatments and the search for new therapeutic approaches and new drugs. The study was published in npj Digital Medicine.

Reliable system accepted by seniors

The researchers initially collected 1,268 health parameters using non-interacting sensors particularly suitable for the elderly population. The deployed system consists of simple non-contact motion sensors in each bedroom, a bed sensor under the mattress, and door sensors on the front door and on the fridge. Connected to a base station, the system analyzes the recorded movement signals and can inform relatives or an alarm center in the event of a problem or emergency, for example when a person does not go to bed at night. The researchers then evaluated the collected data using machine learning approaches.

“We were able to show that such a systemic approach – unlike the common use of a few health parameters – can detect age-related health problems such as cognitive impairment, risk of falling or fragility”, says Tobias Nef, professor. of Gerontechnology and Rehabilitation at the ARTORG Center and co-last author of the study. Compared to wearable devices, this sensor-based approach to home monitoring has been well received by seniors: as the interdisciplinary research group led by Tobias Nef and Hugo Saner was able to prove in a scientific collaboration of computing, Behavioral and medical research spanning more than ten years, older test subjects in Switzerland found daily operation of mobile devices rather cumbersome, and some were unable to handle them at all due to dexterity or cognitive issues. In particular, people over the age of 80 clearly preferred a non-interacting system such as the one used in the study.

In addition, data protection and privacy are a priority: “To ensure technical confidentiality and data protection, the highest Swiss and European standards for medical data security are applied”, emphasizes Narayan Schutz. To ensure privacy, the deployed sensors also do not record sound or video and their installation is completely voluntary – two aspects that study participants appreciated.

Great potential

Assessing and combining the vast amount of daily health data also offers the possibility of identifying new numerical biomarkers relevant to aging: “For example, we found indications that the risk of falling may depend on significantly on certain sleep parameters”, explains Tobias Nef.

Professor Hugo Saner, head of clinical data collection and co-last author of the study, assesses the clinical relevance of the results: “Such a system marks an important step in the early detection of people’s worsening health. elderly living alone into old age We believe that it can make a significant contribution to enabling older people to live at home for as long as possible by delaying hospitalizations and transfers to nursing care facilities or, in the best of cases, even avoiding them.According to the researchers, better early detection and personalized treatment of diseases typical of old age would not only help the elderly to be healthier, but would also reduce health care costs. .


Journal reference:

Schutz, N., et al. (2022) A systems approach to remote health monitoring in the elderly: introduction of a non-interactive digital escape. npj Digital medicine.

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