How does gerontechnology develop medicine?

« Gerontechnology is a multidisciplinary approach at the crossroads of gerontology and technology. It offers real help to caregivers, provided you put in place some guidelines ».

Provided that they help, but are not expected to replace caregivers, gerontechnologies can be a real asset in the prevention of falls in the elderly and in the general care of the elderly. They can help better understand or prevent risk behaviors.

What is Gerontechnology?

Some technologies today make it possible to support the care of the elderly, to propose appropriate actions early in the aging process, in order to maintain the best quality of life possible for our elders.

Technologies or “gerontechnologies” to support people during the aging process have increased since the 1960s. This is particularly true with regard to the prevention of falls.

“Wearables” or small technological tools paced with autonomous sensors, already allow us to gather a lot of information. For example, GPS chips in the form of connected bracelets to geolocate residents are useful for managing the wandering of the elderly. Pendant alarms allow people to alert caregivers by pressing a button. Bracelets equipped with an accelerometer can detect an increase in pulse or a severe fall.

The main disadvantage of these gerontechnology devices is that the person must not forget to wear them always on oneself and ensure that the batteries are always loaded and charged. This is why new solutions based on motion sensors have been developed.

The University of Missouri, for example, showed that IT vision technologies could analyze walking. A walking speed below 0.8 m per second indicates a high fall risk, for example.

In Belgium, a solution based on artificial intelligence analyzes real-time behaviors via motion detectors. Baptized ISA (Intelligent Sensing for Ageing), the system is autonomous, does not need to be worn by the resident, and allows you to detect all types of falls by adapting to the configuration of the parts in which the sensors are installed.

Artificial intelligence as new chapter of gerontechnology

Now the arrival of artificial intelligence makes it possible to go even further into the analysis and processing of data. The technology is self-powered and allows for a finer understanding of behaviors.

For example, the ISA falls detection system records 3D images that capture each fall.

It then becomes possible for caregivers to contextualize falls, to understand them better in order to prevent them from happening again.

In addition to helping institutions improve the care of people, artificial intelligence records what actions preceded each fall scenario in order, ultimately, to be able to distinguish risk behaviors and anticipate falls.

The question of the acceptance by the elderly and informed judgment

Whatever devices that are used, the gerontechnology methods require the acceptance by the elderly. According to the late Professor Jean Petermans (Geriatrics Department) and Mr Daniel Gillain (MedicoEconomic Information Service – SIMÉ) of the Liège CHU:

« A learning process is necessary, and conditioned not only by their cognitive abilities, but also by avoiding stereotypes that have too often painted the elderly as unable to evolve with the times. The emotional aspect is also important, and a therapeutic education must be used, as in any treatment. The problems of personal privacy, medical confidentiality, and medical ethics are also of major importance in the development and use of these techniques ».

It therefore seems essential to create a real relationship of trust and partnership among the caregivers, the people who are likely to fall, and their families.

Privacy and new technologies

Another stake of size: respect for privacy. This involves the principle of proportionality, according to which, in the context of a system that records information, the extent of registration and surveillance should be proportional to the benefits that the person gains. The patient or resident must therefore be informed about the data collected, for what purpose, and in accordance with the RGDP (General Regulations on Data Protection).

To preserve the privacy of people, the images of the ISA system for example, are overlayed by different color point clouds: the furniture is colored in green, the ground in blue and the patient in red.

In conclusion: Gerontechnologies must in no way replace, but should support the work of caregivers

To have the opportunity to act, you have to be able to see the problem. Caregivers and doctors do not have enough eyes to see everything. Of course, it would be necessary to increase the medical assistance, but considering our aging population, we will be overwhelmed at one time or another. Implementing fall detection technology now makes the most sense.

Particularly with regard to night watches or throughout the COVID-19 crisis, for example, gerontechnology can support the work of caregivers by increasing the sense of security felt by the residents.