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Mobile sensors track health of elderly

Annals of Family Medicine,
July/August 2011

Mobile sensors track health of elderly

A small pilot study of wireless mobile sensors used by a group of retirees suggests the technology may be useful in detecting meaningful changes in seniors' health.

To assess the effectiveness of a wireless mobile device in measuring sociability and physical activity in older adults, researchers made eight elderly residents in a continuing care community in America, whose average age was 85 years, wear a waist-mounted, two-inch sensors for 10 days to continuously measure factors such as time spent walking, sitting, standing and speaking with other people. These everyday behaviours often reflect physical and psychological health and potentially predict health problems, like depression or dementia.

It was found that men spent 21.3 percent of their time walking and 64.4 percent stationary, while women spent 20.7 percent of their time walking and 62 percent stationary. Time spent speaking with others was linked to mental health and social interaction scores, which were compared to participants' answers on four established questionnaires on health, physical activity, depression and friendship. The sensor data in the study correlated strongly with the results of the four questionnaires.

The findings suggest that mobile sensing of sociability and activity is well correlated with traditional measures and less prone to bias associated with questionnaires that rely on recall. Using mobile devices to collect data from and monitor older adult patients has the potential to improve detection of changes in their health.

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