Artificial intelligence

How is gerontechnology changing medicine?

09 Dec 2021

"Gerontechnology is a multidisciplinary approach at the crossroads of gerontology and technology. It offers a real help to carers, provided that some guidelines are put in place.

What are gerontechnologies?

Certain technologies now make it possible to support the care of the elderly, to propose appropriate actions early on in the ageing process, in order to maintain the best possible quality of life for our elders.

Technologies or "gerontechnologies" designed to support the ageing of people have multiplied since the 1960s. This is particularly true for the prevention of falls.

Wearables", small technological tools equipped with autonomous sensors, already make it possible to collect a great deal of information. For example, GPS chips in the form of connected bracelets that allow residents to be geolocated are proving useful for managing the wandering of the elderly. Alarms worn as pendants allow people to alert carers at the touch of a button. Wristbands equipped with an accelerometer can detect an increased pulse or a sudden fall.

The main drawback of these gerontological devices is that they must be worn at all times and the batteries must be kept charged. This is why new solutions based on movement sensors are emerging.

The University of Missouri, for example, has shown that computer vision technologies can analyse walking. A walking speed of less than 0.8 m per second indicates a high risk of falling, for example.

In Belgium, a solution based on artificial intelligence analyses behaviour in real time using motion detectors. Called ISA (Intelligent Sensing for Ageing), the system is autonomous, does not need to be worn by the resident and can detect all types of falls by adapting to the configuration of the rooms in which the sensors are installed.

Artificial intelligence as a new chapter in gerontechnology

The arrival of artificial intelligence now makes it possible to go even further in the analysis and processing of data. The technology is self-propelled, allowing a more detailed understanding of behaviour.

For example, the ISA fall detection system records 3D footage of each fall.

This makes it possible for care teams to contextualise falls and better understand them so that they can be prevented from happening again.

In addition to helping institutions to improve the care of people, artificial intelligence records each fall scenario to eventually be able to distinguish risky behaviour and anticipate falls.

The issue of older people's ownership and informed judgement

Whatever they are, these so-called gerontechnological devices require the support of the elderly. According to the late Professor Jean PETERMANS (Geriatric Service) and Mr Daniel GILLAIN (Service des Informations MédicoEconomiques -SIMÉ) of the University Hospital of Liège:

"A learning process is necessary and conditioned not only by their cognitive capacities, but also by stereotypes that too often present the elderly as being unable to evolve with the times. The emotional part is also important and therapeutic education must exist as in any treatment. The problems of privacy, medical confidentiality and ethics are also of major importance in the development and use of these techniques.

It is therefore essential to create a real relationship of trust and partnership between the health care teams, the people at risk of falling and their families.

Privacy and new technologies

Another important issue is the respect of privacy. This includes the principle of proportionality, according to which, in the context of a system that records information, the extent of the recording and monitoring should be proportionate to the benefits that the person derives from it. The patient or resident must therefore be informed about what data is being collected, for what purpose, in compliance with the GDPR.

To preserve the privacy of individuals, the images of the ISA system, for example, are recomposed by point clouds of different colours: the furniture is coloured green, the floor blue and the patient red.

In conclusion: gerontechnologies should not replace but support the work of carers

To have the opportunity to act, you have to be able to see the problem. Carers and doctors do not have enough eyes to see everything. Of course, we need to be able to increase the medical supply, but considering the ageing of our population, we will be overwhelmed at some point. This is where fall detection technology comes into its own.

During night shifts or during the Covid 19 crisis, for example, gerontechnologies can support the work of carers by increasing the residents' sense of security.

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