Aging

Maximizing the Performance of our Seniors’ “Mission Critical Systems”

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Several years ago, I worked as an IBM systems architect visiting customer sites to deploy monitoring software into their data centers to ensure that their mission critical systems were achieving maximum performance and reliability.

My goal was to help them use historical data that could be mashed together to predict potential issues, which triggered actions that allowed us to avoid problems altogether.

Fast forward to 2017. Today, I work with IBM Accessibility Research ensuring that people with disabilities and the aging population can easily use the latest technologies as seamless as everyone else. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience and unlike any other job I’ve had in my career. I have a direct effect on improving people’s lives at school, work and throughout life.

Recently, our team traveled to an independent healthcare provider in Italy to begin a research project to help them monitor the day-to-day activities of its residents using sensors placed in senior housing facilities. Learn more about the project at this link.

The client wants to uncover information about the residents’ behaviors in order to better understand their overall well-being. For instance, they want to predict risk factors, such as wandering or falling, and also understand the dynamics behind incontinence.

To do this, we based our research around the formal classification of ADL (Activities of Daily Living) and IADL (Instrumented Activities of Daily Living). These are used by health professionals to define people’s daily self care activities and understand if they can live independently.

For our initial prototyping and testing, we used a stuffed animal (Fox) that had an embedded iBeacon (for location proximately), a sensor tag for fall detection, and a moisture sensor in a diaper. (See photo.)

There are two images. On the left is a wolf stuffed animal wearing a diaper and an accelerometer. On the right is a computer monitor with a photo of the wolf and a list of everything being monitored.

The next step was to configure, deploy, install and make this solution usable in the client’s facilities. As we worked with them to create this solution, it was important that we covered all potential users and scenarios so they could help monitor all types of residents. Our aging population has very unique challenges and diverse and ever-evolving needs, especially in different countries.

Here are a few example scenarios that we encountered where the sensors could have a positive impact:

The mobile story.

“Valentina” in her heyday was a socialite who would hang out with famous Italian film directors. Today, she is a very independent person living in the facility, but has declining memory.

The challenge with Valentina is her very strong-willed personality. She is also very mobile and likes taking walks around the facility complex.

We want to help our client answer, “Where is Valentina now?” By having Valentina wear an iBeacon the staff can know where she is located inside of the facility. However, this is Italy, and given her fashion sense, wearing an iBeacon needed to conform to her style. We decided to transform the iBeacon into a “hip” necklace. Now the client knows Valentina’s exact location inside the facility.

The late night wanderer story.

We have also thought of possible use cases for incorporating motion detectors. Specifically, how can we know if a specific individual is moving versus someone else? The iBeacon helps solve this issue, but another scenario was envisioned.

The residents at the facility should not be wandering around the floors in the middle of the night, especially towards the stairs or elevators. This allowed us to add a motion sensor in the hallways with the ability to sound an alarm during specific periods when no one should be walking around.

The toilet flush story.

It might sound strange, but we also want to count flushes. The idea is to try to understand if a person is suffering from incontinence and better understand their daily personal hygiene habits.

The CO2 story.

“Luca” lives a meticulous and organized lifestyle. He has a regime of medicines he takes daily. We added carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors to monitor if he is eating at appropriate times and identify when he might turn on the stove.  However, he loves to use the microwave so we needed an energy switch sensor (plug) to see how often he is powering up his microwave.

My job hasn’t changed much.

This experience was amazing and intense, and the sensors were a hit. We are continually finding new requirements and new scenarios that will help people live a better, safer and more independent life.

This project also brought me back to my architect days.

We are taking historical data that can be mashed together to predict potential issues, which then trigger actions to allow the staff and its residents to avoid problems altogether.

Sound familiar?

We will keep you updated on the results of this work.

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