Sense of safety

Homes equipped with devices that collect data on health and activities could help more seniors stay home longer.

The challenge of keeping people at home is resulting in the development of technologies that can create safer independent living environments for elderly people.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is developing non-intrusive sensors aimed at creating safer, more health-conscious home for seniors. In the Smarter, Safer Homes project, sensors are placed in the home to gather information on the living standards and health status of seniors. The data is sent to CSIRO and back to the residents.

Trials are under way to ensure that the system is reliable and stable. Twenty elderly people living independently in a regional New South Wales town, in homes that are already connected to a fast broadband network, have been equipped with the sensors.

The testing began on July 1 and will run for six months. It will attempt to determine whether the technology is easy to use, effective and helps improve the physiological and psychological status and quality of life for participants.

Qing Zhang, leader of the project, said that although it is too early to see real results from the trial, seniors have been pleased with the technology and able to interact with it. “They said they’re happy with the high-techs around the home, especially with the sensors surrounding their place,” Zhang says. “They feel safer, they’re happier to be there.

“The cost of an elderly person entering residential care is significant; it’s an average of about $230k, as well as around 40k [more each] year, so it’s obvious that our system can lower the [domestic] cost.” In contrast, Zhang explains, previous trials have resulted in sensors that deployed at a cost of $3000, including the cost of the trials.

“I’m pretty sure if we see real products, our [cost] will be lower domestically,” Zhang said. “We finally locked out which kinds of sensors are best to use.”

Zhang said that a previous trial uncovered a problem with wearable sensors. Most accidents occurred in the bathroom, where some wearable sensors would be removed, making them ineffective. The fix was to use environmental sensors instead.

Ten different types of monitors have been used, including motion sensors, power sensors to detect whether appliances are in use, temperature sensors to detect whether the living environment is suitable, and devices that detect whether doors have been opened.

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