Looking after the older members of our society has been in the news thanks to COVID 19 and the push to vaccinate the most vulnerable in our communities. Many of us have shared anecdotes about parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts and others deserving of a little extra attention and care over the last 12 months. For those in care homes, there have been scandalously high rates of infection to battle. Independent older people have had to manage without visitors leading to significant impacts on their mental health too.
What are the solutions? Concerned family members have embraced digital technology. Inviting older relatives to Zoom quizzes or hangouts has become familiar for many. Regular phone calls are standard. Some have taken to ‘drive bys’ to deliver shopping and chat through windows from a safe distance.
As lockdown restrictions are eased, it is unlikely that normality will return immediately. Some relationships will have changed forever too. However much concern elderly relatives cause amongst their children, changes in living arrangements and working routines are not always going to be possible. Technology may, therefore, continue to be the answer.
We can use communication tools to check on our relatives but does a method of discretely monitoring the elderly at other times exist? Can you, as a concerned relative, keep an eye on an independent living older family member? The answer is yes. Recently launched in the UK, Stackcare’s pioneering system is the result of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research from the heart of Silicon Valley, California, next to the likes of Google and Apple. Data scientists developed technology that can learn the behaviour of elderly members of the community who live and alone, through discrete motion sensors, and alert family members or professional caregivers should anything in that behaviour change. This includes more trips to the bathroom, fewer trips to the kitchen to eat, less sleep or more time stationary for example. Noticing these changes and raising the alarm can help spot health issues from urinirary conditions to the onset of dementia. Reporting consistent patterns of behaviour can provide reassurance all is well too.
The ability of machines to learn has many applications when it comes to health and well being. It generally centres on an improved ability to identify patterns and, when required, raise the alarm something has changed. It could be x-rays, blood test results or MRI scans. In the case of Stackcare, the technology senses movements of the elderly around their homes, understands what is normal and then raises the alarm over inconsistencies and changes.
Such technology is clearly going to help a lot of families looking after independent elderly relatives – even when lockdown restrictions become a thing of the past.