AI detects changes in behavior in old age and improves the quality of care

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Changes in energy consumption can make it easier for caregivers to address chang
Changes in energy consumption can make it easier for caregivers to address changes in behavior and thus improve care. ©hslu_Judith Wirth

As we get older, changes often happen gradually. One indicator of this is our electricity consumption. The "CleverGuard" web app can make it easier for relatives or carers to notice changes and discuss them with the elderly relative or care recipient. This promotes the relationship and improves safety.

Relatives of older people know the worry, especially if their parents don’t live nearby: ’Will I notice on the phone if my mother is getting frailer and needs help with everyday life’ ’What if my father develops dementia, which he is still able to conceal well when I visit him’ Professional caregivers also know that they often receive embellished answers when asked about how they are feeling, or that senior citizens sometimes fail to notice a gradual change themselves. A team of researchers at the iHomeLab at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts has therefore developed the "CleverGuard" web app as part of the European AAL (Active Assisted Living) program - together with care professionals and the energy meter manufacturer Clemap, as part of an international team. This system makes it easier to detect short- and long-term deviations from everyday routines with the help of power consumption and machine learning.

An offer to talk

The solution is based on an inconspicuous little box that can be installed in the fuse box on request and can read the power consumption down to the second. The box forwards the data in encrypted form to an external server. The project partner Clemap AG from Zurich then evaluates this data on its servers and feeds the results into a web app. This creates an intuitively understandable, easy-to-read diagram that shows whether and when there were deviations from recent behavior during the course of the day. The app does not provide any interpretations - rather, it is intended to provide a basis for discussion for relatives and caregivers. Perhaps there are obvious explanations: Night-time electricity consumption has suddenly dropped because the Olympics were over and so there was no longer any reason to watch TV at night. The grandmother has bought a GA travelcard and is now using the days more for excursions, so there is no cause for concern. Or perhaps a conversation will reveal that the physical or mental state has changed.

Limits and opportunities

In a retirement home in Belgium, it turned out that the conversations motivated by CleverGuard were the biggest gain. Some residents took part in testing the app, but were still skeptical at first. "Aha, Big Brother is watching you," was what one caregiver was told when he stopped by in the morning to check on someone whose electricity consumption graph showed a marked deviation. Over time, however, residents and caregivers made an astonishing observation: "The conversations became more in-depth because they had a specific reason and therefore more content than a general "Big Brother"," says Andrew Paice, head of the iHomeLab at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. This made it easier to better recognize changing needs, regardless of electricity consumption.

In Switzerland, "CleverGuard" was tested in a different environment, where the limitations of the app also became clear. The partner was Vicino Lucerne. The association supports older people with various services so that they can live independently and safely at home for as long as possible. Fredy Blättler, coordinator at Vicino Lucerne, noted: "Our participants were probably too active - the patterns in electricity consumption were not meaningful because the participants, as active retirees, organize each day differently." This is another important finding from the research project: "CleverGuard is most useful where people are on the threshold from active old age to frail old age," says Andrew Paice. It is about noticing long-term changes in behavior and clarifying more precisely whether they are related to a deterioration in health. He sees homes that enable partially independent living as an area of application, for example.

CleverGuard live

From the summer, visitors to the iHomeLab Visitorcenter will be able to see for themselves how "CleverGuard" works. Potential interested parties will then be able to observe the behavior of eight of the people who volunteered for the tests in Belgium and Switzerland live - anonymously, of course. The exploitation rights for the commercialization of CleverGuard are held by the company Clemap AG from Zurich. Pascal Kienast from Clemap sees "CleverGuard" in a broader context: "It is an exemplary project that shows how smart meter electricity data can be put to good use not only in the energy sector, but also in other areas of application". And Andrew Paice is already looking ahead: "We at the iHomeLab have ideas for further research projects on this technology. We believe that its potential for improving the care of elderly people has not yet been exhausted."