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 New Study Cites Sensor Technology Effectiveness in Assisted Living

Sensor systems and the data they provide proved to be an effective way to detect early signs of illness or functional decline in a study of assisted living residents, according to a new study published in the October issue of JAMDA.

The report, “Randomized Trial of Intelligent Sensor System for Early Illness Alerts in Senior Housing,” analyzed the impact of sensor systems versus regular care among residents of 13 assisted living communities over the course of a year.

“For residents randomly assigned to the intervention group, the systems involved a variety of sensors designed to monitor overall activity and capture respiration, pulse, restlessness during sleep, gait speed, and stride length/time,” the report said.

During the course of the trial, clinical staff received health alerts when there were changes in sensor data patterns for residents, and nurses also received the alerts via email every morning for the prior 24 hours as they occurred. The study’s authors said the emails were very simple, such as “Resident 14, apartment 6, increase in bed restlessness during the night.”

Real-time fall alerts were also reported to clinical staff to take action if needed.

“The researchers found that the group of residents who received regular care experienced more rapid functional decline than those in the intervention group,” the researchers said. “Although the study results didn’t identify any significant differences in costs, there is some evidence of potential cost savings using technology in pilot studies involving the same sensor system.”

Sensor technology is also advancing to the point where more elders and people with disabilities can access equipment and be connected to the overall health care system.

“With the innovative technological solutions like the ones we tested in this study, elders can benefit from early detection and recognition of small changes in health conditions,” the study said. Some of the advances include motion sensors that do not have to be placed directly on a resident’s bed and instead can measure a person’s gait, which can offer clues on everything from falls to conditions like urinary tract infections.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and School of Medicine, all in Columbia, Mo.

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