Home motion sensors could help detect the onset of diseases in older adults

According to a study published in npj Digital Medicine, home motion sensors could help detect diseases in older adults through movement. With the help of home motion sensors, older adults can live at home as long as possible by delaying hospitalizations and transfers to nursing facilities or, in the best case, even avoiding them.

Sensors that record people’s movements in the home could help detect the onset of illness in older people, according to a new study. Such a device would be useful for adults who prefer to live alone at home rather than in a retirement home, while feeling monitored for potential health issues. Researchers from the University of Bern say movement patterns can reveal age-related conditions such as a weakened heart and even dementia.

“We use contactless home sensors to create a large collection of digital measurements that capture wide swaths of daily life, behavior, and physiology to identify health risks for older people at an early stage,” says the postdoctoral researcher and the primary study author Dr. Narayan Schütz.

Studies have linked slower or decreased strength to more falls, mild cognitive impairment, trouble sleeping, and more. In older people, the sensor detects different movement patterns that could identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease. If caught early, people could get treatment sooner, and the movement data provided by the sensor could pave the way for personalized treatment and medication plans.

The study authors collected 1,268 health parameters using non-interacting sensors to capture movement patterns common in older adults. They then placed a contactless motion sensor in each room, such as under the mattress, in the front door, and in the refrigerator. All sensors were connected to a base station that collected movement data and notified family members or an alarm center in the event of a problem or emergency. For example, the motion detector would send an alert if it doesn’t detect the person coming back to bed at night.

“We were able to show that such a systemic approach, unlike the common use of some health parameters, can detect age-related health problems such as cognitive decline, risk of falls or frailty,” says co-author Tobias Nef, professor of gerontechnology and rehabilitation at the ARTORG Center of the University of Bern.

One of the benefits of using a sensor instead of a wearable device is that older people don’t have to interact with it. People over the age of 80 seem to prefer a zero-interaction system, as the team’s previous work found using mobile devices too complicated and impractical. Some have had trouble with these interactive devices due to dexterity or cognitive issues. Another attractive feature of the device among the elderly is that it provides people with a high degree of privacy.

“To ensure technical confidentiality and data protection, the highest Swiss and European standards for medical data security apply,” adds Schütz.

None of the sensors recorded sound or video and the installation of the device was voluntary.

“This system marks an important step in the early detection of deteriorating health in older people who live alone into old age. We speculate that it can make a significant contribution to allowing older people to live at home as long as possible by delaying hospitalizations and transfers to nursing facilities or, in the best case, even avoiding them”, says Hugo Saner, professor emeritus of Cardiology at the University of Bern and University Hospital Bern and co-senior author of the study.