Pioneering smart home technology to keep older people safe in their homes

Smart home technology is being piloted in Salford to help older people live more safely in their homes.

Social housing provider Salix Homes is working with Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Manchester, and The University of Salford on a ground-breaking research project dubbed MiiHome.

The pioneering project has the long-term aim to help elderly people who are frail and may have problems with their memory maintain their independence by constantly monitoring their well-being using artificial intelligence (AI)

MiiHome involves sensors such as Microsoft Kinect technology, most commonly associated with the Xbox, fitted into people’s homes.

Samia Nefti-Meziani, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Salford, said: “As the leading University in the development of robotics and AI in the north of England, we are very keen to apply our expertise to healthcare. Our focus is on developing software which uses these sensors to understand changes in people’s behaviour and how those changes impact their health.”

Microsoft Kinect sensors have already been fitted into a number of properties at Salix Homes’ sheltered living schemes, which provide accommodation for older people, as part of the first research study.

Jonathan Drake, service director for business development at Salix Homes, said: “Salix Homes is very proud to be involved in this pioneering research project, which we hope will help elderly people live safely in their homes for longer and reduce the pressures on the NHS and other care services.

“By utilising mainstream technology, we hope this will provide a realistic and affordable solution to tackling one of the most critical health and social care issues of our time.”

The team behind the MiiHome project- Dr Anthony Hodgson, from Salford Royal; Jonathan Drake, from Salix Homes; Caroline Gardner, from The University of Manchester; and Ipek Caliskanelli, from The University of Salford.

Salix Homes’ residents taking part in the first study are being monitored for three months by researchers at the University of Manchester, after which the data will be examined to identify patterns and changes in behaviour that could be linked to changes in health.

Caroline Gardner, research associate at The University of Manchester, said: “We are very grateful to the residents at Salix Homes who have kindly agreed to help us with this first study and I will be making regular visits to see how everyone is getting on and how the Kinect technology is performing. It is really important for us to know if it is practical to install this type of equipment and to learn from their experiences.”

Salix Homes resident Lily McEwen (pictured), 89, has mobility issues and is one of the first people to sign up for the initial study.

She said: “I have quite a lot of falls at home, so I was happy to sign up to take part in the study. If it helps more people in the future then it can only be a good thing.”

A much larger study is being planned for later this year, which will see the sensors fitted into more than 100 homes across Salford. Salix Homes residents are currently working alongside technical experts to develop the study and ensure it meets their needs.

Dr Anthony Hodgson, dementia clinical research development and delivery lead at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The long-term vision of these studies is to test the idea we might install a digital ‘guardian angel’ in the home, particularly of those who live alone.

“We want to develop a system where we can detect significant deterioration in a person’s health. This would mean we could react appropriately and avoid the more serious problems that could result when things continue to deteriorate, perhaps unnoticed. We hope that this will result in fewer people needing help in emergency or even an admission to hospital.

“We are at the very beginning of this journey, however we hope that eventually this technology may be able to for instance, detect whether someone has been unusually getting up several times during the night and alert us that there could be something wrong that could be fixed easily before it turns into something serious

“We are very lucky that Salix Homes and its residents are involved in helping us develop this idea. This is ensuring the studies are being co-created with the right people and the response from residents has been fantastic in helping us design a system that could be accepted into people’s homes in the future.”

If successful, it’s hoped this type of sensor technology will one day be part of the fabric of the future home, especially if the home is supporting an older person who lives alone.

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