Using smartphones to avoid spatial disorientation of elderly

Photo: Example of geographic areas of security

The location-awareness service using Smartphones detects episodes of spatial disorientation. Here you see geographic areas of security; © UPM

Researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) have used new technologies of the network operators to locate and send alerts when an old person with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) suffers from episodes of spatial disorientation.

Biomedical Engineering and Telemedicine group UPM has developed a location-awareness service using Smartphones in order to early detect episodes of spatial disorientation that are frequently suffered by old people with mild cognitive impairment. The detection disorientation and loss considers information of old people such as proximity to their home or place of interest, if that person is with a relative or in the public transport and certain time intervals. When the mentioned disorientation episode occurs, the service puts the old person in touch with his nearest contact (family, a health worker or a friend) to verify if he requires help.

Due to population aging, a big challenge of our society is to maintain the quality of life and autonomy of old people although they can deteriorate certain cognitive aspects (executive functions, verbal attention, visual memory and spatial navigation). This deterioration is known as Mild Cognitive Impairment-MCI and up to the 60% of the cases can cause episodes of spatial disorientation that appear even in zones where the old person usually carries out his daily tasks such as doing the shopping, going to the health centre or visiting someone. The person goes missing and starts to wander causing not only stress or anxiety, but also dangerous situations (falls, accidents, etc.). Disorientation of elderly also means a source of concern for their caregivers (family, friends).

This study, conducted by GBT group at UPM, establishes safety areas for each user around a series of geographical locations called hotspot. These locations can be referred to their home or usual places of the person with MCI. These zones show where this person conducts his daily life distinguishing the potentially unfamiliar areas where a situation of spatial disorientation could occur. By using the location information service we can set the safety area where the person is found, and also his context. Then, the person is put in contact with his relatives via smartphone.

The location service uses a new technology of intelligent communication networks called IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), mainly designed by mobile operators. IMS networks provide basic services that can be reused by any installed application on a smartphone. Specially, the basic presence service allows us to send dynamic information of a certain user "x" for example, location to other users or systems subscribed to the service. Besides, the presence service can store static information through the profile of each registered user.

This study is another example of how information and communications technology (ICT) are becoming essential tools for supporting elderly people. Smartphones and their integrated sensors are a source of user data and its context.

In a particular way, the location information is an essential part of the user context to provide applications based on geographical location. The developed location service will allow people with MCI to live with more independence, preserving their autonomy and self-esteem. The service will also allow caregivers to manage situations of spatial disorientation and reducing stress and anxiety.; Source: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

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