Sensors Aid in Detection, Intervention of Illness/Decline in Assisted Living Residents

October 2, 2017
Perry Gwen Meyers,

Data from sensor systems can be an effective strategy to help staff to detect and promptly address early signs of illness and/or functional decline in assisted living (AL) community residents, according to a study in the October issue of JAMDA.

In “Randomized Trial of Intelligent Sensor System for Early Illness Alerts in Senior Housing,” the authors studied the impact of sensor systems versus regular care among residents of 13 AL communities. For residents randomly assigned to the intervention group, the systems involved a variety of sensors designed to monitor overall activity and capture respiration, pulse, restlessness during sleep, gait speed, and stride length/time. Residents lived with these sensor systems for an average of one year.

AL staff received health alerts when there were changes in sensor data patterns. Nurses received the alerts via email every morning for the prior 24 hours as they occurred. These emails were very simple, such as “Resident 14, apartment 6, increase in bed restlessness during the night.” They also received real-time fall alerts, so that staff could respond quickly when people in the intervention group experienced a fall.

The researchers found that the group of residents who received regular care experienced more rapid functional decline than those in the intervention group. Although the study results didn’t identify any significant differences in costs, there is some evidence of potential cost savings using technology in pilot studies involving the same sensor system.

With the growing development and accessibility of technology, such sensor systems hold promise as more elders desire to age in place. The authors say, “With the innovative technological solutions like the ones we tested in this study, elders can benefit from early detection and recognition of small changes in health conditions….” They then can get help early when treatment is the most effective and prevention of costly hospital or nursing home care is still possible. More importantly, the authors stress, “Function can be restored, so they can continue living independently….” Looking forward, they stress the importance of identifying ways to prompt early interventions to maximize the independence and functioning of elders with chronic diseases.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and School of Medicine, all in Columbia, MO.

For more information on all of the findings above, and more, click here. To contact the researchers or JAMDA Editor for interview contact