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The healthcare sector is on track towards a much more preventative and personalized medicine. With the rising population of people over 60, the elderly to care taker ratio is changing drastically. Therefore, we need alternative methods in taking care of the elderly or methods to help the elderly live independently. This paper will discuss how wearable technology can be implemented into monitoring and diagnosing illnesses and how the future of wearable technology can aid the aged in living alone.
Background on wearable technology
Wearable Technology is a blanket term that is used to define electronics that can be worn on the body, either as an accessory or as a part of clothing material. Wearable technology is split into two divisions which are wearable electronics and wearable computers. Wearable electronics are constructed to fulfil one or more needs of a specific target while a wearable computer can perform several tasks and has both input and output. (McCann and Bryson, 2009)
The first wearable computer was created in the 1960’s by a maths professor named Edward Thorpe in his book “beat the Dealer”. He revealed that he had built a computer small enough to fit in his shoe in order to cheat at roulette. A timing device helped predict the where the ball would land on the roulette table, giving him a 44% edge von the game. Wearable technology became commercial in 1996 when Xybernaut 13 launched the ‘Mobile Assistant’, which could be made with personalised programs and user interface for mechanics and technicians in both the military and commercial sectors, as well as for people working in healthcare. Although there were many complaints about the bulkiness of the product and its battery issues, it was clear that Xybernaut was a commercial breakthrough. The Polar ® heart rate monitor – a wrist watch unit and a sensor belt around the chest – has been around since 1982 18 and nobody really interpreted it as a ‘wearable’. Still, it has some quite wearable characteristics: it is body-worn, monitors the user and is even relatively unobtrusive in use. . (McCann and Bryson,2009)
Now we have more commercialised wearable technology that performs different tasks e.g. the fitness band which help track activities, heartbeat rates and how many calories burnt. We also have Google glasses which is based on augmented reality.
1996 Xybernaut Mobile Assistant
Polar heart rate monitor
Google glasses 2018
Current Use of Wearables in Care
-Diagnostic and Health Monitoring
There are many instances where smart clothing/ wearable technology is used within health monitoring for instance, the use of GPS technologies for monitoring clients in nursing homes described by Parnes in 2003. There is a research paper from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, that describes a real time health monitoring system was designed which incorporates wearable technology (Lejiang, Bingwen and Xiaoli, 2009). The system is split into 3 parts:
- Physiological parameters collected by the wearable medical sensors and relative techniques
- Data sending, transmitting and receiving platform
- Providing medical services to remote monitoring centre.
The wearable system resembles a small screen which reads and displays the wearers variation in temperature, heartbeat, carbon dioxide/carbon monoxide inhale and exhale etc.
With all the monitoring sensors, the following physiological parameters can be obtained:
- Basic physiological parameters: heart rate, respiratory rate, tidal volume, chest breathing, abdominal breathing, posture, body movement, body temperature, etc.
- Derived parameters: heart rate variability (HRV), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), minute ventilation, fractional aspiratory time, peak aspiratory airflow, chest breathing capacity, abdominal breathing capacity, abdominal breathing ratio, abdominal motor coordination, etc.
The data is then transmitted through GPRS wireless communications and Internet technology. The system sends GPRS message format to remote monitoring centre by real-time data transmission platform. With the wireless transfer of information, it would be easier to have constant monitoring especially on the elderly. If this system was well applied, older citizens could now live alone while being continually monitored.
-Elderly that Suffer from Dementia
Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. The biggest risk for dementia is age. Meaning that the older one gets, the more likely it is for someone to develop the condition. There is a research paper from the 2016 International Conference on Interactive Technologies and Games that contains well detailed explanation of how wearable technology could be integrated into the treating and daily upkeep for the elderly which suffer from dementia. The paper describes how the IoT (internet of things) provides connectivity and intelligence to convert small devices into smart objects which allow integration and transfer of enriched data from embedded sensors and wearables to facilitate disabled people with assistance and support that they need to achieve a good quality of life and independent living. (Mohamedali and Matoorian, 2016)
In the paper, it was explained that the existing device sensors, and data processors require a real time middleware system for wearable and embedded devices. Middleware is software which lies between an operating system and the applications running on it. (Azure.microsoft.com, 2019) The current standards for middleware require real time processing of data from wearable devices with built-in real time pattern recognition and analysis. The Wearable-Middleware is equipped with the two-way data binding will bring the power of the middleware into the devices. Wearable sensors would also help monitor the health of dementia patients. The use of assistive technology for supporting dementia patients not only eases their everyday life but can also increase their personal safety by triggering automatic alarms in case of a deteriorating health status. For those living alone, particularly the elderly, there is often a fear of having an accident and being unable to call for help. Incorporating this technology will reduce this risk.
Future of Wearables in Care
Augmented Reality Glasses for Independence
Augmented reality glasses provide virtual images, animation, videos or informational content to users who wear them, allowing them to add virtual elements to the physical world they can see through the glasses. This is an emerging technology that aims to transform the world as users see it depending on what they’re looking at. (Techopedia.com, 2019) According to Global Smart Augmented Reality Glasses Industry 2015 Market Research Report, augmented reality market is expected to reach $ 660 million by 2018. With the growing market in augmented reality, I believe it will be a good idea to implement it in the independency of the aged. This could be useful in many ways for example:
- Zoom and enhance images / signs
This would aid in seeing bus times, signs etc. leading to easier travel and sovereign movement.
- Memory and storage for people with dementia
Due to the fact that people with dementia suffer from poor memory, having glasses that store information about streets, people, shops and can be accessed on the spot will really be helpful for their condition.
- Lightweight and Flexible
The glasses would be light weight and not too irritating to the user. This would be very useful because the user can get more accustomed to them and it would be easier convincing the aged to use them.
Smart Shirt for Diagnosing
The US Navy funded a research at Georgia Tech university which led to the realisation of a wearable motherboard called the ‘Smart Shirt’. It was designed to use optical fibres to detect bullet wounds and have special sensors that read the wearers vital signs during combat (PARK and JAYARAMAN, 2003). The architecture of the smart shirt includes a comfort-based fabric which is made from typical textile fibres where the intended application determines the choice of fibres. An advanced interconnection technology is then used to create a wearable and flexible framework to plug in sensors to monitor several vital signs including body temperature, respiration rate, heart rate and pulse oximetry. In addition, by plugging in a microphone into the Smart Shirt, voice can be recorded.
The image below shows the break down of all the functionalities of the smart shirt. If they were to be met adequately, the smart shirt could go commercial and aid in tracking the vitals of the aged. With this, they will no longer need a care taker because the information would be sent directly to the hospital. In case of any emergency an alert should arise.
In conclusion, I believe that the wearable technology industry is increasing rapidly, and newer ideas to make life easier are approaching. With the present-day wearable monitors and sensors, we have been able to make life a bit easier for the dependent age but there is always more we can do. So, with new technology such as the smart shirt we cane facilitate independence in the elderly.
- Azure.microsoft.com. (2019). Middleware – Definition and Examples | Microsoft Azure. [online] Available at: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/overview/what-is-middleware/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
- Lejiang, G., Bingwen, W. and Xiaoli, P. (2009). The real-time wireless infrastructure for family medical care base on wearable technology. [ebook] International Conference on Future BioMedical Information Engineering, pp.343-344. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=5405853 [Accessed 17 Apr. 2019].
- McCann, J. and Bryson, D. (2009). Smart clothes and wearable technology. Oxford… [et al.]: Woodhead Publishing.
- Mohamedali, F. and Matoorian, N. (2016). Support Dementia Using wearable assistive technology and analysing real-time data.. [ebook] London, United Kingdom.: International Conference on Interactive Technologies and Games, pp.50-53. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7782514 [Accessed 18 Apr. 2019].
- PARK, S. and JAYARAMAN, S. (2003). Enhancing the Quality of Life Through Wearable Technology. [ebook] IEEE ENGINEERING IN MEDICINE AND BIOLOGY MAGAZINE, pp.41-43. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=1213625 [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
- Techopedia.com. (2019). What is an Augmented Reality Headset (AR headset)? – Definition from Techopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/23143/augmented-reality-headset-ar-headset [Accessed 22 Apr. 2019].
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