Home Health Tech Goes Next-Level in Texas

A high-tech apartment unit makes it possible to receive a physical exam without ever leaving home, NPR’s Morning Edition reported Monday. Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) are experimenting with a live-in laboratory with health tracking technology built into furniture, appliances and floors to provide real-time information that can prevent falls in seniors and detect other potential health issues.

During a time when the vast majority of people over the age of 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible during retirement, remote monitoring technology has growing implications for the home health sector by allowing seniors to age at home. With early detection of changes in a person’s health, preventive care can more readily be administered and prevent more serious health issues.

This fall, UTA researchers plan to monitor a senior in a one-bedroom apartment at Lakewood Village Senior Living Community located in Lakewood, Colorado.

“Every detail has been designed to make it easier for older adults to live independently,”  Lauren Silverman, a reporter for NPR affiliate KERA News, said on Morning Edition.

From keyless door handles to custom-built floors teeming with sensors, the apartment is outfitted to monitor movement, weight, breathing, pulse and more to detect changes in health. Sensors in the floor detect movement that could indicate whether an older adult is more likely to fall.

“While you’re standing, every muscle adjustment in your ankle, every little twitch, will actually register on those sensors,” Manfred Huber, an associate professor in UTA’s department of computer science and engineering, told NPR. “We can measure how much your sway is, how fast your sway is, how many corrective movements you make.”

Even the bathroom mirror can tell if someone is feeling blue thanks to a hidden camera that can pick up changes in skin colors, an indicator of certain diseases. Researchers also can monitor sleeping and breathing patterns in a pressure sensing mat under a mattress, and are working on developing similar technology in pillows to detect sleep apnea and/or prevent bed sores.

For this experiment, a mission control room has been set up just down the hall from the apartment at the senior living community, where computers will analyze all the information the technology collects. 

“That is information that could go to your doctor’s office, information that could go to their children,” Huber told NPR.

While the big-brother concept of remote monitoring may help determine potential health issues, tracking data alone won’t keep seniors healthy and able to live at home. There are some pitfalls to remote monitoring, and too much data could overload doctors and medical records.

Not to mention, this technology can be expensive. The pressure sensing mat is already available for purchase, but can run upwards of $3,000, NPR reported. However, the opportunities to reduce hospital visits as a result of home health tracking have led some states to consider absorbing some of the cost, and the potential for tech companies to create more of this technology is still growing.  

Written by Amy Baxter