Lower Saxony Research Network Design of Environments for Ageing

Deutsche Fassung

Final GAL Symposium 09/2013

Sensors for Seniors

Interdisciplinary research network GAL presents results

They have equipped 79 senior apartments with sensors, performed 824 interviews, and sent 6,100 questionnaires to older persons, relatives and experts: For five years more than 60 scientists have studies assistive technology for older adults in the Research Network Design of Environments for Ageing (GAL). Today thay have presented their research results. The goal was to determine how the quality of life of older adults can be improved through modern information and communication technology.

The following numbers show that this kind of research s important in an era of demographic change: While the average population ge in Germany was 35.4 years in 1950 and 39.9 years in 2000, it is estimated o reach 59.5 years by 2050. The percentage of people over 80 years old will then probably be at 14.4%. In comparison: In 2000 this number was 3.5%, and 1950 below one percent. (Source: UN World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/index.htm)

"Modern technology can be a blessing for older adults", Dr. Gabriele Heinen-Kljajic, Minister for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony explained today. "With modern technology they can carry out their familiar life and live in their familiar environment longer than before. Modern technology can also compensate lost capabilities so that older people can continue to actively participate in life." The research network was funded by Lower Saxony's Ministry of Science and Culture in the context of the "Niedersächsisches Vorab" grant programme with 5.36 million Euro.

What has been achiever? In the so-called GAL-NATARS study single older adults were examined how had returned home after a fracture of the femoral neck with floowing in-patient treatment in a hospital or rehabilitation centre. Sensors in their apartments delivered important information about the convalescence process of these persons. The results indicate that sensor-based monitoring can address a weakness in post-discharge care of older adults. The Lower Saxony Association for Geriatrics (Niedersächsischer Landesverband für Geriatrie) pleads for a continuation of this study so that the results can be implemented into practical usage.

Further research work addressed the following topics:

Personal activity and household assistant

This device assists in the daily houshold and activity planning such as event planning and reminders. These functions are useful independent from the age and health status of the user; an interest in the use of technology is thus raised early.

Monitoring in prevention and rehabilitation sports

This scenario addresses patients with chronic pulmonary disease, who are offered the possibility of a home excercise training with medical assistance and telematic supervision. Vital parameters such as ECG or breathing frequency are monitored continuously during the training. If the parameters excess individually defined limits, the system can intervene and reduce, for example, the load of a bicycle ergometer.

Sensor-based activity determination

How can dangerous situations in everyday life be prevented? This scenario is about acute dangerous situations (e.g. the user forgets that a cooker is still switched on) as well as about the long-term prognosis of subtle changes and function losses. This enables an early intervention in order to prevent acute dangerous situations before they happen. Unobtrusive ambient sensors such as motion detectors and light barriers allow for this application.

Sensor-based fall prevention and recognition

The goal of this scenario is to prevent falls. Based on technically measurable mobility parameters such as speed of waking and gait pattern a fall risk can be identified early and timely intervention is possible. Should the user fall nevertheless, this event can be detected automatically and an alarm can be raised.

The central linchpin of an assistive system for older adults is a technical platform, which in a later product should fit into a small box that is similar in size and look to a satellite TV receiver. This system records the sensor data, controls the scenarios described above and sends out alarms if needed. The GAL research network also studied how the home environment can be integrated into new processes of care, and how this changes the care environment. After the technical developments of the first project phase, the systems are tested under real conditions and evaluated by older adults and their relatives in the second phase. For this purpose the 79 test installations mentioned above were performed and evaluated with persons with and without need of care as well as in homes for people with cognitive impairment.

Furthermore the research network addresses societal, economic and psychological requirements and consequences. Will loneliness and dependency increase, or will relatives and supports be unburdened? How can assistive systems be financed? Can age related changes such as decreasing memory performance be slowed down or stopped? Finally the research network addresses issues of data protection and informational self-determination as well es the usability of assistive systems for clinical geriatrics.

The results of the research network hve been presented at a Final Symposium on 18. and 19. September 2013 at the House of Science in Braunschweig. The work on assistive technology for older people does not end with the end of the GAL research network. The network partners remain active: The topic is further advanced in the context of 35 follow-up projects on national and international level.

(Excerpt from the press release for the final symposium)