MU researchers use gaming technology for elder care

By Mike Miliard
10:35 AM

Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that two devices commonly used for video gaming and security systems are effective in detecting the early onset of illness and fall risk in seniors.

The Mizzou researchers have long been using motion-sensing technology to monitor changes in the health of residents at TigerPlace, an independent living community in Columbia. Now their findings have pointed to new uses for consumer gaming programs.

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Marjorie Skubic, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the MU College of Engineering, is working with doctoral student Erik Stone to use Microsoft Kinect, a new motion-sensing camera generally used as a video gaming device, to monitor behavior and routine changes in patients at TigerPlace. These changes can indicate increased risk for falls or early symptoms of illnesses.

"The Kinect uses infrared light to create a depth image that produces data in the form of a silhouette, instead of a video or photograph," said Stone. "This alleviates many seniors' concerns about privacy when traditional web camera-based monitoring systems are used."

Another doctoral student, Liang Liu, is collaborating with Mihail Popescu, assistant professor in the College of Engineering and the Department of Health Management and Informatics in the MU School of Medicine, to develop a fall detection system that uses Doppler radar to recognize changes in walking, bending and other movements that may indicate a heightened risk for falls.

Different human body parts create unique images, or "signatures," on Doppler radar, researchers say. "Since falls combine a series of body part motions, the radar system can recognize a fall based on its distinct signature.

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"Falls are especially dangerous for older adults and if they don't get help immediately, the chances of serious injury or death are increased," said Liu. "If emergency personnel are informed about a fall right away, it can significantly improve the outcome for the injured patient."

Both motion-sensing systems provide automated data that alert care providers when patients need assistance or a medical intervention. Skubic says the system allows TigerPlace residents to maintain their independence and take comfort in knowing that illnesses or falls may be detected early.

For more information about MU's interdisciplinary eldercare technology research, visit eldertech.missouri.edu or agingmo.com.