Alzheimer’s Disease is a debilitating and progressive neurodegenerative disease that usually affects the elderly. As with any illness or condition, early detection is better, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious ones are that early treatment in Alzheimer’s patients can slow the disease’s progression, sometimes markedly so. Also, for someone experiencing symptoms, it has been found that knowing what is wrong, even when it is something as unwelcome as this neurodegenerative disease, brings relief. What happens when a person is approaching an age where such health issues are closer to reality? Studies show that more than two-thirds of people over the age of 70 wish to remain in their own homes.
Smart homes are no longer the stuff of science fiction. It seems a new smart technology is being announced just about weekly. Doorbells that notify your phone, allowing you to speak to the visitor or postman outside and take a decision whether to remotely unlock the front door, etc., this is all happening. The Spanish company Tecnalia recently made public their work on smart homes designed specifically to monitor the elderly for early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Tecnalia comes with a strong pedigree, being Spain’s leading private research and technology group. The company resulted from a merger of eight smaller such companies in 2011, and has the scope to take on such large projects.
The smart home in question involves a monitoring system that utilizes a plethora of sensors about the home, including sound, movement and temperature sensors. Early monitoring accomplishes the learning of what a person’s normal habits are like, so that if these are drastically altered, the system will notice and can alert the necessary people, such as family members. If a person begins sleeping less at night, and wanders around, or if they stop preparing hot meals for themselves on a regular basis, these are the types of changes the system will take note of.
Information related to the home owner’s activities is recorded in real time; how much they watch television, and at what times of day, typically. How often they shower or bathe, what length of time meal preparation involves. If a person begins staying home substantially more, becoming isolated, opens cupboards or doors too frequently, or becomes largely inactive, sleeping and watching TV more than usual, these can all be early indications of Alzheimer’s or that something else is wrong.
One early warning sign of Alzheimer’s includes memory loss that is disruptive to daily life, such as needing reminder notes, or asking the same information over and over. It may be especially hard to remember recently learned information. The smart home additionally has the function of directly assisting the person within it, through the use of alarms or robotic robots to remind when it is time for an activity or to take a medication.
Other early warning signs of the disease include such things as: difficulties with problem solving and planning, completing familiar tasks, muddling time or place, trouble with visual images and spatial relations, new word problems when speaking or writing, being unable to retrace steps to find something that has been misplaced, poor or decreased judgment, withdrawal from routine activities, and changes in personality and mood.
By Julie Mahfood
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