October 28, 2014

Electronic Gizmo Detects Depression Remotely

In recent months, I’ve highlighted a variety of new developments that are allowing seniors to remain in their own homes. “Aging in place” is what the majority of older people want to do; they don’t want to leave their familiar environments for the strangeness of a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Now, there’s a new twist in this “aging in place” saga: family members, doctors, and caregivers – all in different places – can now tell if their special senior might be experiencing depression.

Gerontologists know that people aged 70+ tend to follow fairly regular routines at predictable times – sleeping, watching TV, eating, washing, etc. When seniors vary from those normal patterns, something may be wrong.

Soon, seniors will be able to wear a small device on their forearm that records movement. Developed by researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico, the new gizmo – when hooked up to high-tech software and working in tandem with webcams – can give loved ones anywhere on earth a pretty clear picture of what’s going on with the monitored senior.

Looking for Irregularities
If there’s an anomaly in a senior’s activity course -- or in the time when they are positioned at a certain location -- the system issues an on-line alert to the computer or smartphone of any relative, physician, or caregiver.

Edwin Almeida Calderón -- Industrial Design researcher at UAM and project leader – said, "The sensor is connected to a modem using radio frequency systems. The processed information from the elder's movement pattern may include factors such as temperature, heart rate and deviations in the usual activity path."

The development is another important tool, available at a time when the number of seniors is soaring and the number of caregivers is in decline. Cost for this new service is not yet established, but developers think it will provide invaluable peace of mind to families and caregivers of seniors.

In addition, the technology might become part of the toolkit for the care of elderly people, who --  for a variety of reasons, like family abandonment or some chronic medical condition --  are vulnerable to falling into a depressed state.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll continue to share new ”aging in place” developments. 

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