Keeping grandma safe and healthy with biosensors

December 03, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Keeping grandma safe and healthy may someday be as simple as using a tiny sensor that can reliably track her movements. An Oregon Health & Science University professor recently received $300,000 from Intel Corporation to create new ways of using sensing technology to detect cognitive impairment and dementia in elderly adults. The technology may someday help seniors maintain their cognitive abilities and provide added peace of mind for family members worried about their loved one's health and well-being.

Misha Pavel, Ph.D., a professor in OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering, is the principal investigator of the three-year study that includes a multidisciplinary group of OHSU researchers. Pavel, Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D., professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine, and director of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center at OHSU and the Portland VA Medical Center, and their team will use simple, intelligent biosensors to continuously and unobtrusively monitor seniors' movements. Early studies will be conducted at Elite Care, a private senior home in Milwaukie, Ore., and at Calaroga Terrace Retirement Community in northeast Portland.

During the study, the intelligent sensors -- equipped with sophisticated information processing and communication capabilities -- will be located in areas common to seniors, as well as within infrared badges worn by the Elite Care seniors involved.

"The sensors will constantly and quietly relay information to a computer that can help us reliably determine the regular movement of each senior within the project," said Pavel, an experimental psychologist in the OGI school's Department of Biomedical Engineering. "For example, if a senior who never takes a walk suddenly leaves the building, the sensor may be invaluable in alerting caregivers to a subtle, but important cognitive change, as well as avert a potential danger in the senior getting lost or harmed."

Pavel and his colleagues, with support from Portland, Ore.-based Spry Learning, also plan to develop and test a variety of easy-to-use computer games with Calaroga residents to monitor trends in cognitive function over time, and enhance and maintain a defined set of cognitive capabilities.

Pavel is testing his sensors, systems and algorithms in a lab on the Hillsboro, Ore., campus designed to look like a senior's living area. For example, the lab has a chair that can sense someone sitting on it and a bed that monitors a person's movements and sleeping positions -- information that may eventually provide clues to a senior's safety and well-being. Motion detectors are positioned throughout the "living area" of Pavel's lab to track seniors' comings and goings.

Pavel hopes additional funding down the road will enable him to coordinate field tests with seniors still living in single-family homes.

Though research into intelligent biosensors is a growing field, this is the only known study focusing on biosensors for home health care.

Older adults are at high risk for cognitive impairment and dementia. Dementia occurs in 10 percent to 16 percent of seniors older than 75 and in up to 50 percent of those 85 or older. For people with mild cognitive impairment (for example, significant memory loss, but not dementia), the risk of developing dementia is as high as 50 percent within five years of being diagnosed. Unless physicians and other health care providers are alert to cognitive changes in their elderly patients, many cases of dementia will go undetected, which can lead to seniors getting lost, falling or failing to get treatment.

According to the U.S. Healthcare Financing Administration, home care is the largest growing segment of health care. Experts believe that care for the elderly will increasingly be provided in homes and in low-skill care facilities as opposed to institutions.

Pavel is an expert in signal processing, statistical pattern recognition and model-based information fusion. His co-investigators include: Katherine Wild, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine, who will lead the cognitive testing and evaluate the effects of dementia; Holly Jimison, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology in the OHSU School of Medicine, who will lead the effort on adaptive computer games for monitoring trends in performance; Linda Boise, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of education at OHSU's Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center, who will consult on the interaction with caregivers and provide clinical guidance; and Kaye, who will provide overarching clinical guidance on the project.

"Health care for the chronically ill and elderly is rapidly draining national health care dollars," said Pavel, "and this trend is only expected to worsen as baby boomers hit retirement age."

"These kinds of embedded technologies that can be easily incorporated into everyday life are going to start becoming very important to baby boomers who want the best quality of life possible as they age. Family members also will appreciate the home health care technologies that are on the horizon for added peace of mind about their loved one's health and well-being. And caregivers will appreciate the enhanced services they will be able to offer. Technologies for home health care are going to be a win-win situation for everyone."

OGI's Department of Biomedical Engineering began offering graduate degrees in the fall of 2003.

The department has 13 full-time faculty with research emphases in biomedical optics, cardiovascular bioengineering, genetic engineering, imaging, informatics, neuroengineering, point-of-care biomedical engineering, rehabilitation and biomechanics, tissue engineering, and biomaterials.

The OGI School of Science & Engineering (formerly the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology) became one of four schools of the Oregon Health & Science University in 2001 (see http://www.ogi.edu).
-end-
Contact: Sydney Clevenger, 503 748-1546; clevenge@ohsu.edu.
Mike MacRae, 503 748-1042; macraem@ohsu.edu.

Oregon Health & Science University

Related Dementia Articles from Brightsurf:

The danger of Z-drugs for dementia patients
Strong sleeping pills known as 'Z-drugs' are linked with an increased risk of falls, fractures and stroke among people with dementia, according to new research.

The long road to dementia
Alzheimer's disease develops over decades. It begins with a fatal chain reaction in which masses of misfolded beta-amyloid proteins are produced that in the end literally flood the brain.

Why people with dementia go missing
People with dementia are more likely to go missing in areas where road networks are dense, complicated and disordered - according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

PTSD may double risk of dementia
People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a new study by UCL researchers, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

Building dementia friendly churches
A project to help church communities become more 'dementia friendly' has had a significant impact across the country.

A "feeling" for dementia?
A research team led by the DZNE concludes that personal perception can be an important indicator for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease.

New biomarker for dementia diagnosis
Medical researchers in the UK and Australia have identified a new marker which could support the search for novel preventative and therapeutic treatments for dementia.

Digital solutions for dementia care
Telehealth delivery of dementia care in the home can be as effective as face-to-face home visit services if carers and recipients take advantage of the technologies available, Australian researchers say.

Despite a marked reduction in the prevalence of dementia, the number of people with dementia is set to double by 2050 according to new Alzheimer Europe report
Today, at a European Parliament lunch debate, Alzheimer Europe launched a new report presenting the findings of its collaborative analysis of recent prevalence studies and setting out updated prevalence rates for dementia in Europe.

Read More: Dementia News and Dementia Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.