Environmentally embedded (non-wearable) sensor technology is in continuous use in elder housing to monitor a new set of "vital signs" that continuously measure the functional status of older adults, detect potential changes in health or functional status, and alert healthcare providers for early recognition and treatment of those changes. Older adult participants' respiration, pulse, and restlessness are monitored as they sleep. Gait speed, stride length, and stride time are calculated daily, and automatically assess for increasing fall risk. Activity levels are summarized and graphically displayed for easy interpretation. Falls are detected when they occur and alerts are sent immediately to healthcare providers, so time to rescue may be reduced. Automated health alerts are sent to health care staff, based on continuously running algorithms applied to the sensor data, days and weeks before typical signs or symptoms are detected by the person, family members, or health care providers. Discovering these new functional status "vital signs," developing automated methods for interpreting them, and alerting others when changes occur has the potential to transform chronic illness management and facilitate aging in place through the end of life. Key findings of research in progress at the University of Missouri are discussed in this viewpoint article, as well as obstacles to widespread adoption.
Rantz, M., Skubic, M., Popescu, M., Galambos, C., Koopman, R.J., Alexander, G.L., Phillips, L.J., Musterman, K., Back, J., & Miller, S.J. (2015). A new paradigm of technology enabled "vital signs" for early detection of health change for older adults. Gerontology, published online 11/26/14.*