Smart Home System Designed to ‘Diagnose’ Ageing Occupants

By April 17, 2014

Tecnalia is now demonstrating a new home system which is able to detect the first symptoms of neuro-degenerative illnesses.

Coping with ageing populations is certainly going to be a key challenge in the near future, as indicated by the first report on the Silver Economy in France, on which L’Atelier reported last week. Among the structural adaptations that are going to be required, the report points to an increasing need for homes that are suitably equipped and adapted for senior citizens. With this in mind, the Spanish research centre Tecnalia has now come up with a design for a smart home system. The basic idea is to be able to make an early diagnosis of neuro-degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, predicted by research by R. Brookmeyer, E. Johnson, K. Ziegler-Graham and HM Arrighi at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in the United States to affect one person in 85 by 2050, i.e. four times the number of sufferers in 2005. Tecnalia’s system is designed to spot changes in the behaviour of the householder, which may be the first symptoms of a neuro-degenerative illness.

Connected home monitoring system

The Tecnalia system uses a vast network of sound and other sensors to detect the presence of the occupant in the various rooms around the house – opening and closing doors, windows and drawers; turning light switches on and off; and using household appliances; plus monitoring how much TV they watch, how much time they spend lying in bed or sitting on the sofa, how frequently they turn water taps on and off, etc. Using these sensors spread throughout the house, the system is designed to quickly alert a friend or family member if there is a change in the person’s habits. This might be a change in sleeping patterns, or eating habits – if, for instance, an elderly person stops preparing and eating hot meals or becomes increasingly inactive. Such changes in an older person’s day-to-day activities are very often symptoms of disorders linked to neuro-degenerative disease and detecting such illness at an early stage of cognitive deterioration can significantly increase the chances of improving the patient’s quality of life.

Helping to maintain senior citizens’ independence

In the initial phase of deployment of the system, Tecnalia is focusing on retirement homes and supervised apartments, with a view to improving care and quality of the residents’ lives. However, Tecnalia quotes data from IMSERSO, the Spanish Institute for Older People and Social Services, which reveals that 70% of people over 70 still prefer to live in their own houses rather than be placed in a specialised care home. Based on this finding, the research centre is now aiming to develop technology specifically to provide for the needs of those more independent older folks. This would mean enabling senior citizens to receive assistance in their everyday activities, for example installing smart alarms and employing household robots. The prototype of the current system has taken three years to develop and has just been installed for demonstration purposes at Tecnalia’s premises at Zamudio in the Basque region.

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