Smart Sensors to Assist the Living of Elderly by Themselves in a Smart Environment

The advancement in technology and the availability of a wide range of technological applications have influenced immensely on how people live and interact within a society. Dependant people, such as the elderly in society have varied levels of need ranging from physical to cognitive support. There have been calls from different angles for personalized services for the elderly when interacting with the environment. The aspect of smart homes has not been alien when searching for solutions to elderly problems. Deploying smart sensors in smart environments for the elderly has the potential to provide a panacea to most challenges faced by elder people in society. Smart sensors have the ability to deliver personalized assistive services to old people with various disabilities. This paper examines the issue of using Smart Sensors to enable elderly people live by themselves. In addition, the paper shows how smart sensors may be adapted to help the elderly in their living environments.

There has been wide application of wireless sensors in monitoring residence that live with dementia. According to numerous scholarly studies, this might be the ideal way of handling the elderly so that they can safely live longer in their homes (Martin, Nugent, Wallace, Kernohan, McCreight & Mulvenna, 2007). Smart monitors and sensors which are networked, something which has been known as Internet of Things could be very helpful in making the elderly more independent since relatives and doctors would be in a position to keep in touch of the tabs from afar (Xin & Nugent, 2011). In the system, which was first tested during the pilot study launched in the early 2013, data is transmitted from the sensors to the smartphone of the caregiver through a tablet. The sensor system is modified to track the pattern of activities of the elderly person having a specific illness. The behavior of the resident is monitored by the sensor which records any kind of change detected. As it was put by one of the initiators of the system, HermieHermens, Smart Sensors provides a sense of security to the aged people and their carers when they are far apart (Xin & Nugent, 2011). In the case of urgent need for help, the system alerts the caregiver who is always in a position to respond amicably.
This technology is indeed very promising and is still developed jointly by Roessingh Research & Development and Inertia Technology (a University of Twente spin-off company). The Service and Product Design symposium which took place at Twente Campus University focused on both the parallel and plenary element of the system (Martin, Nugent, Wallace, Kernohan, McCreight & Mulvenna, 2007). In most parts of the sessions, discussion involved ways in which this technology impacts on the living of the elderly people. Experts, however, showed how the need for elderly online assistance could be boosted through the application of Smart Sensors.

Background Information and Justification of The Research

Those who have always been assumed to be the early adopters of technology are those who are eager and young. However, there are an increasing number of gadgets that are majorly designed not for the technophiles, which are stereotypical but for persons with elderly age. Within the period from 2010 to 2050, the population of the United States of America aged 65 and above is expected to at least double up. This was according to the prediction of the United States Census Bureau (Xin & Nugent, 2011). There have been a significant number of elder care providers who wish to keep the elderly at their home instead of moving them to living centers, which have been assisted. Further studies show that the demand for remote patient monitoring is likely to grow from 2012 $10.6 billion to $21.2 billion by the year 2017 (Monekosso & Remagnino, 2009). Among the modern systems expected to enter the market, a Smart Sensor is known as lively. This sensor can be placed anywhere within the environment of the elderly person including drawers, cabinets or other appliances and used in tracking the patterns of activities undertaken by the elderly and sent the relevant data to the loved ones and caregivers.

Other designs of this technology pose an aim, which is slightly different to assist individuals living within the senior communities in remaining a setting which is as independent as possible. Another design known as the eNeighbor remote-monitoring system that is marketed using Health sense utilizes the sensors all over the residence to chart any detected bed rest and motions, including falls. This kind of Smart Sensor known as eNeighbor has the ability to provide reminders for the need of medication or even make a distress call during the time of emergency (Monekosso & Remagnino, 2009). One of the commonest things, which are currently being cited among those who are growing old, is being put in a nursing home. With the development of this system, elderly people are capable of living longer that anyone would think. Very limited research, if any, has been carried out to investigate this belief into further details (Monekosso & Remagnino, 2009). Therefore, there is a need for more studies on the topic in order to evaluate the use of Smart Sensors in assisting the living of elderly by themselves in a Smart Environment, a factor that justifies the need of this study.

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Study Objective and Variables

The tentative objective of this research is to evaluate the use of Smart Sensors in assisting the living of elderly by themselves in a Smart Environment. The two study variables dependent (living of the elderly) and independent (Smart Sensors applications) will be used in guiding the research.

Literature Review

Numerous researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol were involved in the European project that aimed at creating a system, which is intelligent, consisting of Smart Sensors and robot that has the ability to support the elderly people to live independently (Skubic, Alexander, Popescu, Rantz & Keller, 2009). This project brought together a team comprising of people from different disciplines and expertise with regards to the caring of the old through computer interaction. The companies which took part in the project were Robosoft from France, Smart Homes from Netherlands, and CSEM from Switzerland. The team also comprised of health care providers coming from Netherlands and from the University of Lappeenranta and Thessaloniki. The main aim of this project has been providing three key systems for caring of those who are considered to be old. The systems include a nutrition support system (Thessaloniki) that most likely consists of examples of reminders on when drinks and meals need to be taken, tele-alarm which is a secure and health reporting system, and health status monitor which is wearable, and has Smart Sensors woven within the undergarments (CSEM and Smartex). All the three systems are linked to the robot platform which facilitates communication, helping the people in keeping in touch with friends and relatives as well as creating a shopping list through voice recognition application. Robosoft delivered its first two technologies known as D-robots and Kompaï-R, which were taken for trial for the first time in 2010.

The leading researcher of the project, Dr. Praminda Caleb-Solly indicated that the whole world, especially the elderly is very excited with the project (Demiris, Oliver, Dickey, Skubic & Rantz, 2008). As he explained it further, CSEM has been working with wearable sensors and robotic companies found in Europe in ensuring that the Smart Sensors technology being developed enhances the lives of the elderly people and provide them with the ability of making informed choices in the lifestyle they wish to live. The health monitoring and nutrition support system have played a great role in helping people maintain and attract better activities and health standard, especially the elderly, to live independently for as long period of time as possible (Demiris, Oliver, Dickey, Skubic & Rantz, 2008). There is a need, however, for looking closely at the perception, expectations and the context to which the older people lives to ensure that there are maximum benefits obtained from this technology. This reason makes the study inevitable as it seeks to evaluate the use of Smart Sensors in assisting the living of elderly by themselves in a Smart Environment.

The main aim of Smart Sensors technology is to bring the lifestyles lived by the elderly people as close to the caregivers and relatives as possible. During the study in order to test the effectiveness of the project, six user groups of elderly people took part, three from Netherlands and the other three coming from the United Kingdom (Stip & Rialle, 2005). This study looked mainly on the elder people who were living alone within their own homes, elderly people who were living in residential care homes, and those who were living at home but would still go for day care (B et el., 2013). The study trial was seeking to identify what is acceptable to the elderly people in terms of personal and social context so that they would ensure that the technology is intuitive and easy to be used by the elderly people (Poland, Nugent, Wang & Chen, 2011). During their initial meeting with the user groups of this technology, CSEM took robot and smart textiles samples along with them so that people could gain more valuable understanding of the system, hence, making them have the ability to engage the elderly people in discussing of the possible scope and impact of the system in their lives.

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During this period of pilot testing, homes of the seniors were equipped with remote sensors that monitored the environment in real time, scrutinizing the changes in temperatures and other potential dangers such as water leaks or accumulation of carbon monoxide to a higher level, which might be toxic to health. Data were transmitted and displayed on the dashboard of central control rooms, which were located at the off-sites (Demiris, Oliver, Dickey, Skubic & Rantz, 2008). The same data was also transmitted to the android mobile devices of the operators through mail, Twitter and SMS. When problems aroused which required immediate action, alerts were sent to various family members, volunteers, emergency staffs and other relevant health care providers depending on specific individual need of the elderly person (Poland, Nugent, Wang & Chen, 2011). Thus, this approach ensured that the elderly received only the kind of care they were in need of. This literature, therefore, showed enough evidence that Smart Sensors might prolong and enhance the living of the elderly in a smarter way than it had been expected.

The question that remains in this field is how useful or significant these Smart Sensors can be in the lives of the elderly with respect to creating a Smart Environment for them and possibly prolonging their lives. This study, thus, examines the functionality of the Smart Sensors, the perspectives of the elderly and their caregivers as well as the social contexts of the technology with respect to the expected outcomes of their use on the lives of the elderly and their families or caregivers. The idea is to establish the real value or role of the Smart Sensors to the elderly members of the society to either endorse or reject the applications.

Research Methodology

This study is conducted by examining the available literature on the subject to establish how the Smart Sensors work and how they are understood both by the elderly and by their caregivers. This implies that the main sources will be secondary, mostly journals and articles as well as books written on the subject. These sources will be analyzed for information on the Smart Sensors and their users through a qualitative approach. To corroborate these secondary sources, the study will include a few primary sources by conducting interviews with caregivers, senior citizens and a few young people who anticipate aging at some point in their lives.

Research Design

The research design for this study is mainly a systemic review of literatures that discuss the functionality of the Smart Sensors and how they influence the lives of the elderly at home, in clinics and in day care facilities. To accomplish this, the research will include a search on various databases for peer-reviewed articles and journals with the key words ‘Smart Sensors’ and ‘care for the elderly’ in order to capture as many sources as possible. Moreover, as for the interviews, the questionnaires will be presented to various sample populations within homes and clinics for the elderly as well as within schools and colleges. The study takes on a top down approach to test the significance of the Smart Sensors in the lives of the elderly, thus, investigating the perceptions of the elderly and the caregivers and the general population towards the technology and how it really works.

Method of Data Collection

Once the articles and journals have been obtained, the study will require a scan of these to obtain first the functionality of the Smart Sensors and then their significance and effectiveness in the lives of the elderly. This implies that the data will be collected by a qualitative analysis of these books, peer-reviewed articles and journals in order to meet the first objective of the study. For the aspect of getting the perspectives and attitudes of the elderly, their caregivers and the rest of the population with respect to using the Smart Sensors technology, the study will use collect data by identifying a relevant sample population and using a set of structured questions in the form of a questionnaire.

Validity and Reliability of the Study

Validity can be defined as a measure that is used to ascertain the degree to which a given tool actually assesses what it is meant to assess. In other words, validity points out the extent to which the collected data reflects the truth. It can, thus, be agreed upon that the findings of any study can only be considered useful if they are valid. On the other hand, reliability is used to illustrate how free studies are from flaws and the extent to which the results obtained are consistent. The reliability of the study is defined by three important conditions such as the accuracy of the obtained findings, their consistency and their ability to be replicated.

In order to ensure that the findings of this study were both valid and reliable, the investigator resorted to the following. First, the investigator made use of advanced search techniques and this enabled the investigator to include as many studies as possible and, therefore, limit the bias due to selection to a bare minimum. Secondly, use of appropriate inclusion criteria ensured that only high quality studies were evaluated and this enabled ‘blemished’ studies to be excluded from the analysis. Thirdly, the investigator reduced researcher bias and enhanced the repeatability of this study by hiring an independent person to perform data abstraction simultaneously with the investigator. Accordingly, each study was abstracted and the inferences compared with those of the investigator. Thereafter, the homogeneity of the research was evaluated once the analysis of data had been carried out.

Qualitative studies are often characterized by validation issues because of the nature of the design. The use of secondary sources to collect data has reliability issues, as it is usually difficult for the researcher to identify errors that might have occurred especially during the collection of information and data. To address this issue, the researcher intends to use multiple perspectives in validation. This will involve a comparison of findings by different researchers on the same subject. In this case, past researches on the subject of Smart Sensors in caring for the elderly will be considered.

Ethical Consideration

This study involves using other people’s published work as sources of data. The use of secondary data is characterized by plagiarism issues. The researcher avoided this by referencing any information lifted from other researchers and acknowledging other authors for their work.

Regarding ethical issues in the collection of primary data through interviews, a number of steps were put in place. First, the right to privacy of the respondents was respected. Accordingly, questions which overstep the limits of individual privacy were avoided. Where the respondent’s right to privacy is affirmed, anonymity of the respondent was safeguarded. Informed consent was sought from the respondents before commencement of the study. In this regard, respondents were explicitly informed about the aims and objectives of the study and permission to answer to research questions requested. Further, the right of the respondents to discontinue the interview at any one stage or to be left alone was affirmed. The contributions of the respondents were treated with the highest level of anonymity and confidentiality.

Concealment and deception by the investigator was avoided in all stages of the study and at all costs. Accordingly, the investigator was guided by openness and honesty and respondents were informed of all the aspects of the study. Where needed, permission from relevant governing authorities was first sought. The investigator was also guided by the relevant research body’s code of ethics.

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Data Analysis

The first set of data to be discussed in this section would be that from the secondary sources given this was the information that actually guided the interviews. Using the advanced search, a wide scope of articles were found and analyzed with respect to how the Smart Sensors work and how they impact the lives of the elderly individuals.

The Smart Sensors are reportedly small gadgets with the capability to detect the movements of an individual within a specified radius while also monitoring their vital signs and sending the information to the corresponding system via email or text messaging services or even a direct update for a smart phone user with the relevant applications (Cook, 2007). This means that a Smart Sensor acts like an application on a smart phone except that it can be left at home or on the elderly individual’s person and it will send the information to whoever needs it including the relatives, caregivers or the emergency respondents where necessary.

A Smart Sensor is built with equipment that reads the movements of the elderly person along with their temperature, pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate and the environment in terms of surrounding temperature, air concentration and humidity among other things to allow for necessary mitigation steps (Griol et el., 2014). The gadget, not only allows the user to keep tabs on their elderly individual, but also on their external environment such that they are able to leave the person at home without worrying of a gas leak or a severe drop in temperatures. They will be able to monitor all these conditions and have them adjusted by friends, neighbors or by themselves once they get the updates on their phones.

The available literature also showed that various types of Smart Sensors vary depending on user’s specific needs and financial ability. The first and possibly the best type is one that covers a very large radius in that if placed inside the house it can follow the activities of the elderly person even while they are out in the yard. This particular Smart Sensor is able to send updates on the individual directly to the user’s smart phone in real time such that they do not have to wait or check for updates. It can be placed in drawers, cabinets or simply left on the table or anywhere within the house. The advantage of this Smart Sensor is that it not only monitors the movements of the elderly person but also their vital signs including blood sugar levels and dehydration to alert the user on when they need to eat or drink.

Another type of Smart Sensor discussed was the one that is sewn into the elderly person’s undergarments and sends updates on their body functions including temperature, heart rate, pressure, sugar levels and dehydration (Martha. 2005). In addition, the gadget measures the patient’s fatigue levels to advice on when they should take a nap. The advantage here is that it is always on the elderly individual’s person and, thus, their details can be guaranteed even when they wander out of the house.
Regardless of how they collect the information, the significance of these gadgets is on how they transmit the information to those who need it. On one hand, they could simply send updates on the patient’s welfare to the user’s phone through text messages. However, these gadgets vary in how they relay the information to whoever is using them. Some send regular emails with the findings of the gadget with respect to body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels as well as the details of the external environment to the provided email address (Martha, 2005). Others also send these updates as text messages while there are those that are simply linked to the users’ smart phone. Therefore, they update automatically in real time allowing the user to be there with their elderly patient in real time even when they are far away. Actually, most of the Smart Sensors are linked to the users’ smart phones for easier communication between the gadget and the user.

For the primary data, there were three sets of sample populations where the first one was of the elderly patients, the second one of the caregivers and the third one of relatively young people with the hope of getting old someday or with the experience of knowing or taking care of an elderly person. The sample population size for each of these categories was of about 500 individuals drawn from different parts of the country, most of whom actually corresponded by email.

Amongst the elderly persons, the main question was in relation regards to their comfort and acceptance of the Smart Sensors. From the interviews, it was generally concluded that the elderly persons needed these gadgets and were more willing to use them than we had anticipated. Originally, it is assumed that the elderly would rather stick to the old-fashioned way and not trust technology. However, in this case, it was found that they acknowledged how hard it was to have a person monitoring them all the time and that they would be more comfortable with the Smart Sensors in that they could have their privacy and, yet still be taken care of and, thus, safe and secure at all times.

A major cause for concern to this section of the sample population for the study was that these gadgets could malfunction and, thus, put their lives in danger. This was, however, countered by the fact that the Smart Sensors send live feeds to the users’ smart phones and, thus, they would be able to notice a malfunction in real time (Cole, n.d.). Most of the elderly participants were enthusiastic about using technology that would enable them to live in their own homes as opposed to being taken to day care centers and homes for the elderly. Regardless of the initial mistrust, they were willing to embrace this new way of living their lives to the fullest without becoming a burden to their families, thus, making the Smart Sensors very important to them.
The caregivers, on the other hand, lauded these gadgets because they allowed them to monitor their changes without having to be around them all the time (Kadouche et el., 2009). They noted that they were able to have the elderly persons stay at their homes or in the care giving centers for the elderly without having to spend all their time there with them. They were also enthusiastic that the gadget enabled them to feel confident about the safety of their patients even when they were away from them.

For the third group of participants, the concept of becoming elderly and being sent into home or day care centre was considered as worrying. This, along with the fact that most of them were stereotypic technophiles ensured that they were very enthusiastic about the Smart Sensors. They considered these to be a great opportunity to live out their lives to a ripe old age without inconveniencing their loved ones. From a tech savvy perspective, this lot was very appreciative of the fact that the gadgets meant freedom from constant supervision in that they would be able to do what they want provided they did not endanger themselves or the environment within which they lived.
Generally, it can be stated that all the participants in this study agreed on the fact that the elderly need to be enabled to live as independently as possible owing to the limitations of consistent supervision and the inconvenience of having to provide this supervision.

Finding and Discussion

The study was guided by the objective of evaluating the use of the Smart Sensors in assisting the living of elderly by themselves in a Smart Environment. This means that the research was required to establish first the concept of the Smart Sensors and then how they are perceived by the various relevant groups before putting this all together to determine the effectiveness of the gadgets in creating a Smart Environment that is both safe and secure for the elderly persons to live freely.
The first finding was that Smart Sensors work by monitoring the movements of the elderly person as well as their body’s vital signs and the environment to ensure that everything is alright both in their bodies and in the environment in which they live. The gadgets are, thus, not only responsible for the elderly person’s body conditions but also for their environment in that it keeps them safe from incidents and accidents like gas leaks, malfunctioned heating systems that could result in fatal drops in temperature, and fires among others (Cole, n.d.). This is how these gadgets work with respect to creating a Smart Environment in which the elderly person can live safely without consistent supervision.

The second finding in this study is with respect to the perceptions of the various relevant groups when it comes to the gadgets. It was found that each group that was considered relevant enough for inclusion was in support of the gadgets and they all cited strong reasons for their support. The elderly persons were willing to live in their homes without consistent supervision. Therefore, they were willing to embrace this technology if it guaranteed their safety and assured them of their full lives even in old age (Cole, n.d.). The care givers were also enthusiastic about the technology given that it would enable them to take care of more patients and even more effectively considering that they would be able to be in touch with their gadgets full time. In addition, the gadgets are able to send distress calls to nearby emergency respondents, thus, lightening the work of the caregivers in cases of emergency. For the public mostly comprising of young people, the gadgets are a way of living their lives to the fullest and avoiding the inconveniences of being old and fully dependent on others in terms of consistent care.

From these findings, the significance of Smart Sensors can be established with respect to how they improve the lives of the elderly by creating a Smart Environment. These uses are discussed below.

Individually, elderly persons are unable to carry out their daily functions like eating, bathing or taking a walk with ease. This means that in most cases they need help to carry out these functions. There are some elderly persons, however, who are able to struggle through these activities every occasionally and, thus, would appreciate the freedom to do so. Smart Sensor ensures that the elderly person does not have to stay in a care centre for the elderly. They need minimal supervision with respect to physical presence and, thus, there is no need to have them confined to a home for the elderly (Kadouche et el., 2009). If they are able to live in their homes, they enjoy the remainder of their lives in familiar territory often surrounded by beautiful memories and friends that they have grown to cherish. This implies that the gadgets allow them to stay in an environment within which they are relaxed and possibly happy.

From a medical perspective, these gadgets are able to monitor how the elderly person is doing in order to keep them stable and allow for effective emergency responses where necessary. This means that even without being near the doctors and nurses, these patients are able to be constantly checked for any health issues and catered to as needed. Most of the gadgets are set to communicate with emergency responders within the patient’s vicinity in case of an emergency dealing with their health or their environment for the utmost safety. This means that even when they are left alone, they are never alone and, thus, any dangers can be detected early enough to be averted adequately (Martha, 2005).

Being elderly is often a tasking experience considering the inability fully independent. These gadgets lighten this burden by enabling the elderly persons to do some of the things that they were used to doing for themselves without help. For example, with the Smart Sensors they are able to sit on the porch and enjoy their lawns without having to be monitored. This gives them the feeling that they are still living their lives and not being a burden to others all the time. The gadgets, thus, improve their sense of self-worth and ability to be happy and confident compared to when they are dependent on consistent help and supervision.

Considering that these gadgets are also able to monitor the environment within which the patient is in, it is important to note that they enable the users to keep their homes safe for the sake of the elderly persons, themselves and their neighbors too. Monitoring the environment for gas leaks, extreme temperatures or pressures, humidity and all the other things that are measured by the gadgets ensures that the environment of the house is maintained at its best and this ensures the safety of the elderly person and all those within that environment. This way, the surroundings are constantly kept conducive for the elderly individual.

Recommendation and Conclusion

Throughout this study, the major interest has been to establish the significance of the Smart Sensors in the lives of the elderly by looking at how these gadgets work, how the relevant groups perceive them, and how they improve the lives of the elderly people. With respect to these three objectives, it was found that the gadgets work by monitoring the body of the elderly person as well as the environment within which they are and sending the updates to the user’s smart phone in real time. As for the perspectives, the gadgets are widely considered as a way of ensuring that the elderly are no longer a burden to their loved ones and the society since they are able to live independently with minimum supervision as opposed to the consistent supervision required without the gadgets. The gadgets ensure that the elderly individual’s vital signs are at an acceptable level, that their environment is safe with respect to temperature, pressure, humidity and gas concentration, and that any emergencies are reported in time for effective response from the relevant units. Generally, these gadgets improve the lives of the elderly persons very significantly, giving them not only the chance at an independent life even in their old age but also a renewed sense of self-worth based on their ability to once again take care of themselves and not burden their families or the society.

From this study, it can be recommended that the gadgets be availed and embraced by all people with elderly family members and friends. This technology can also be deployed for in care centers for the elderly, where the gadgets can minimize the work of the caregivers by ensuring that most of the rooms are secured with Smart Sensors so that they can focus mainly on the serious cases that must be handled physically. The effectiveness of the gadgets as well as the enthusiasm of the relevant parties to use them should be enough to encourage their wide usage in the care of elderly persons across the world.

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