Smart sensor technology in homes could keep older people safe and independent
To help older people live more safely in their homes, smart home technology is being tested in Salford to spot deterioration in an individual’s health.
Social housing provider Salix Homes is working with Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Manchester and The University of Salford on a pioneering research project called MiiHome.
MiiHome aims to help elderly people who may have memory difficulties maintain their independence by constantly monitoring their well-being using artificial intelligence (AI).
The project uses motion sensors such as Microsoft Kinect technology, most commonly associated with the Xbox video games console, fitted into people’s homes. The aim is for the sensors to monitor problems in the home so that more serious issues can be detected and appropriate action can be taken quickly.
Samia Nefti-Meziani, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Salford, said: “Our focus is on developing software which uses these sensors to understand changes in people’s behaviour and how those changes impact their health.”
Microsoft Kinect sensors have already been fitted into a number of properties at Salix Homes’ sheltered living schemes, which provide accommodation for older people, as part of the first research study.
Jonathan Drake, Service Director for Business Development at Salix Homes, said: “Salix Homes is very proud to be involved in this pioneering research project, which we hope will help elderly people live safely in their homes for longer and reduce the pressures on the NHS and other care services.
“Here at Salix Homes we are rethinking the way housing services are delivered in order to cope with the demands of the future, such as an ageing population, and the MiiHome project is a perfect example of this.”
Jonathan added that by utilising mainstream technology, he hopes the project can offer both realistic and affordable solutions in people’s homes.
Salix Homes’ residents taking part in the first study are being monitored for three months by researchers at the University of Manchester, after which the data will be examined to find patterns and changes in behaviour that could be linked to changes in health.
Caroline Gardner, Research Associate at the University of Manchester, said: “We are very excited to be working with Salix Homes on this ground-breaking MiiHome research project, which we hope will help ensure elderly people can maintain their independence for longer.
“We are very grateful to the residents at Salix Homes who have kindly agreed to help us with this first study and I will be making regular visits to see how everyone is getting on and how the Kinect technology is performing. It is really important for us to know if it is practical to install this type of equipment and to learn from their experiences.”
Salix Homes resident Lily McEwen, 89, suffers from mobility issues and was one of the first people to sign up for the initial study.
“I have quite a lot of falls at home, so I was happy to sign up to take part in the study,” she said.
“If it helps more people in the future then it can only be a good thing.”
A larger study is being planned for later this year, which will see the sensors fitted into more than 100 homes across Salford. Salix Homes residents are currently working alongside technical experts to develop the study and ensure it meets people’s requirements.
Dr Anthony Hodgson, Dementia Clinical Research Development and Delivery Lead at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The long-term vision of these studies is to test the idea we might install a digital ‘guardian angel’ in the home, particularly of those who live alone.
“We want to develop a system where we can detect significant deterioration in a person’s health. This would mean we could react appropriately and avoid the more serious problems that could result when things continue to deteriorate, perhaps unnoticed.”
Dr Hodgson added that he hopes the technology will mean fewer people need help as well as fewer hospital admissions.
“We are at the very beginning of this journey, however, we hope that eventually this technology may be able to, for instance, detect whether someone has been unusually getting up several times during the night and alert us that there could be something wrong that could be fixed easily before it turns into something serious.”