Watching over the elderly with IoT

Ajay Rane, Sigfox

An exclusive article by Ajay Rane, VP of Global Ecosystem Development, Sigfox.

Lockdown has left many elderly and vulnerable people exposed as their loneliness, social isolation and exclusion are exaggerated.

Together with societal change which has led to reduced inter-generational living, greater geographical mobility and less cohesive communities, the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to higher levels of isolation amongst the elderly.

For senior citizens either self-quarantined or living alone, technology is at the forefront of detecting and alerting care givers, healthcare professionals or family about changes in behaviour which could potentially lead to serious issues in the future.

Insurance companies, service providers such as telcos and medical device manufacturers are driving the market for monitoring the growing elderly population, as there is an increasing need for more cost-effective, efficient early intervention.

Today, more than ever, we need technology solutions based on the Internet of Things (IoT) that enable us to support the well-being of our loved ones when we cannot be at their side. Our aim should be to keep the elderly in their homes for longer while reducing emergency hospital admission for avoidable conditions, such as severe dehydration or malnutrition.

Due to advances in public health and medical technologies, in addition to improved sanitation, the average life expectancy of the elderly population has increased globally, resulting in a projected 56% growth in this population from 901 million to 1.4 billion by 2030. Monitoring the elderly therefore also needs to increase. Whether to send an unusual activity alert to a call centre or a fall or a consumer solution where an alert is sent directly to the family.

Fall prevention

A major threat to the elderly is falls, which are very often responsible for the loss of autonomy. The risk of falling increases with age, therefore, the prevention of falls is an essential step whether at home or in a care facility. Recording incidents, identification of risk factors for falls (individual and environmental), highlighting the preventive / corrective measures are critical to fall prevention, prediction and detection.

The statistics around falls are alarming, with falls being the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide. Adults over 65 years of age suffer the greatest number of fatal falls with 37.3 million falls severe enough to require medical attention occurring each year.

Fall prevention strategies should be comprehensive and multifaceted, and encompass education, training, creating safer environments, prioritizing fall-related research and adopting effective policies and technologies to reduce risk.

For older individuals, fall prevention programmes can include several components to identify and reduce risk, such as: screening within living environments for risks for falls, home assessment and environmental modification for those with known risk factors or a history of falling, as well as prescription of appropriate assistive devices to address physical and sensory impairments.

Older adults are more likely to agree to installation of remote monitoring systems in their homes if it means they can continue to live independently for as long as possible, rather than moving to a care facility. By empowering older adults with the ability to monitor their own health and by facilitating collaboration between them and healthcare providers, we can move towards more preventative and sustainable healthcare systems.

Wearable technology is being used as an approach to reorient health services. Typically, the person must carry/wear the device and press a button upon falling. However, if the person is unwell but does not fall down, nothing is reported. That is why it is important to detect discomfort by other means, such as an algorithm that detects change in the patient’s general wellbeing, offering the ability to track progress over longer periods of time (days or months) and determine whether their health is deteriorating.

Use of IoT technology to keep elderly in own homes longer

Age is not a barrier to the use of technologies, provided certain conditions are met. Increased interest and demand for IoT solutions and tele-assistance services help reassure families. Age UK found the use of modern (e.g. internet) and assistive technology (e.g. telecare or telehealth) is useful when maintaining and establishing social contact..

To limit the consequences of falls and to be able to intervene quickly, Sigfox supports companies developing technologies to detect falls or behavioural anomalies that can endanger elderly or disabled individuals living alone.

Thanks to Sigfox’s expertise in IoT as a 0G network provider, technology solutions companies within the elder care market such as SeniorAdom and Vitalbase have developed remote assistance solutions which include various motion detection sensors, as well as geolocation pendants and watches. When using Sigfox, no personal data is transmitted, as sensors detect movement from a device and only transmit that information.

These solutions are designed to automatically detect any potential behavioural changes due to a fall, a person feeling weak or a deterioration in their mental state with illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to the use of self-learning algorithms along with Sigfox’s technology, which enables data communications at very low cost and with minimal energy consumption, these innovative solutions make it possible to better protect elderly populations by anticipating risks and acting quickly in the event of an emergency.

With an algorithm and an intelligent box wirelessly connected to sensors installed in the home, SeniorAdom can detect a potentially critical or abnormal situation and warn care givers or relatives. SeniorAdom offers motion sensors and door open / close sensors that learn the daily activities of the person, to build information based on a few weeks of operation, and can detect if there are changes in activities.

Sigfox based SeniorAdom solutions are ready to go out of the box without any configuration, Sigfox focuses on providing connectivity, while other solutions are linked to a gateway (a box) that needs to be setup. With Sigfox solutions, there is no need to worry about interoperability.

For over 10 years, Vitalbase has been developing, industrializing and commercializing e-health solutions. Vibby OAK is the first wrist or neck-worn automatic fall detector on the market to foster autonomy and security: at home or in health care facilities. More than 300,000 active users in Europe are currently protected by the Vibby OAK.

After a fall, an automatic alarm is sent from the Vibby OAK to the call center or nursing staff via the care device connected to it. It is an effective solution to reduce response times, while the user maintains autonomy and family or care givers have peace of mind. At home, the Vibby OAK is compatible with all devices (transmitters, tablets, etc.). At healthcare facilities, the device can be interfaced with all existing nurse call systems to alert medical staff.

The Vibby OAK watch is connected to a cellular mobile device but Sigfox is used when there is no primary connectivity, either because the user is not near a phone, or there’s no cellular network connectivity.

Vitalbase also supports the autonomy of seniors by stressing the importance of prevention: activity assessment and senior coaching, geolocation, lifestyle monitoring, providing support for persons with chronic diseases (Alzheimer, epilepsy, cancer).

Indeed, the expertise gained in automatic fall detection is the starting point for a range of innovative connected devices for older adults to support them aging better at home, and providing a feeling of security and independence, while strengthening social ties between caregiver(s) & family.

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