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19 May 2009

David Reid, Reporter, BBC Click

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BBC Click reporter David Reid visits a project in the south of France where digital technology is giving freedom to hospital patients and the vulnerable.

Project Gerhome, run by the French centre for construction research (CSTB), fits out houses with sensors monitoring almost all the activity that goes on inside the walls.

The wealth of data being gathered could mean, for instance, that the sensors can work out whether residents are eating normally.

From electricity consumption, movement, to chair and bed occupation, the aim is to determine a resident's "normal" behaviour.

"Based on the activity of the equipment we can realise what is the real activity of the person, in the sense of the daily activity," said Alain Anfosso, from CSTB Gerhome.

"The interest of this analysis of sensors is to understand if the activity is normal," he said.

An amount of privacy is traded off for freedom to stay at home
Image credits: BBC / An amount of privacy is traded off for freedom to stay at home

The system can detect the slight changes in natural rhythms that can give doctors and carers early warning of possible trouble ahead.

Eric Pascual from CSTB Gerhome said the monitoring should not be seen as an emergency system, but a chance to act on a person's health deterioration.

"Some kinds of evolutions such as sleeping periods, for instance, can be a sign of some kind of weakness," he said.

He added that many factors were taken into account, including changing sleep patterns and meals varying with each season.

Software used to analyse raw data can tell if someone is in trouble, if they can bend or stretch normally, or if they are changing their usual routine.

Eric Pascual said monitoring could loosen links within families
Image credits: BBC / Eric Pascual said monitoring could loosen links within families

Video monitoring also gives doctors an objective way of assessing the significance, if any, in a change of behaviour.

"For example people waking up during the night… it is not just important to know they are getting up, but why they are doing it," explained Francois Bremond from the national institute for research in computer science and control (INRIA).

"Sometimes they go to the bathroom and sometimes they are in erratic motion," he said.

The individual's loss of privacy is offset by the freedom to stay at home.

Dr Olivier Guerin, a gerontologist at Nice Hospital, said security technology can shorten a hospital stay.

"The convalescence time is often lengthened by the difficulty we have evaluating the risk of them living at home," he said.

"The danger is that this kind of system could tend to loosen the links between family members," said Mr Pascual.

"Members spread over territories cannot always meet their parents even when they want to, so it is a way to keep some kind of link and alert emergency people and doctors."

Source : BBC

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