Researchers to develop health IT-equipped clothing for elderly

By Sam Collins
12:00 AM

Researchers at the University of Ulster are embarking on a ground-breaking research project to develop hi-tech clothing which could improve older people's quality of life.

The three-year project could have wide-ranging benefits for older people, with electronic devices built in to clothing that could provide information ranging from heart rate and body temperature, to keeping the individual informed of bus timetables.

The research, funded by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, is driven by a team of researchers from the University of Wales, Newport; University of Ulster, University of Westminster; London College of Fashion; University of Brighton and the University of Salford.

Professor Bryan Scotney, Director of Ulster's Computer Science Research Institute (CSRI) said: "CSRI has already established a leading research position in assistive technologies for healthy ageing and independent living, and healthcare monitoring and diagnosis. This project is particularly exciting as we will be working with partners with complementary expertise that will enable our research in sensor technologies, data fusion and intelligent data analysis to have a real impact on people's everyday lives."

The team at the University of Ulster is led by Professor Chris Nugent and includes Professor Scotney, Professor Sally McClean, Dr Dewar Finlay and Dr Paul McCullagh from the CSRI, and Dr Eric Wallace, Director of the Sport and Exercise Research Institute (SESRI).

SESRI is at the forefront of examining active lifestyles. Dr Wallace said, "Essentially, once the data on the movements of older people is recorded, it is then passed to SESRI and we will make sense of it in a lifestyle capacity. This information can then in turn be used by those developing the garments, to understand better the most effective usage of the technology in the clothing."

One of the key aspects to the project will be making the technology user-friendly to the older person as well as comfortable.

It is thought that the technology could have benefits as diverse as monitoring temperature in the home and automatically adjusting the thermostat, to even providing a life-saving tool by alerting a GP or relative if heart rate drops.

Project leader Jane McCann, Director of Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology, at Newport's School of Art, Media & Design, said: "We are at the beginning of a new industrial revolution as textiles and electronics merge, and this collaborative research project will bring together design and technology to investigate the application of smart textiles in clothing to enhance the well-being and quality of life of the active ageing population.

"Little has been done to address the design requirements of older wearers in terms of human factors such as sizing, fit, predominant posture, thermal regulation, moisture management, protection and the psychological 'feel good factor.' This project will develop a shared 'language' to enhance communication between older wearers and bring together the traditional clothing and textile designers with electronics and healthcare experts."

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