Health Sensors Prove Their Value in Assisted Living

Sensors can prevent functional decline in assisted living residents—and, as a result, can help them stay healthier, longer, according to a study published in the Journal of The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA).

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, School of Social Work, and School of Medicine in Columbia, Missouri.

Authors of the study, titled “Randomized Trial of Intelligent Sensor System for Early Illness Alerts in Senior Housing,” analyzed how the use of sensors affected a total of 86 randomly selected residents. They compared the results of this “intervention” group to the results of those involved in the “regular care” group, or the 85 assisted living residents whose care did not involve the use of sensors.


Participants were randomly selected from 13 different assisted living communities.

Residents assigned to the intervention group utilized a variety of different sensors, including an under-mattress bed sensor to capture respiration, pulse, and restlessness as they slept, as well as a gait sensor that analyzed and quantified gait speed, stride length, and time, and automatically assessed for fall risk as the individual walked around the community.

Individuals assigned to intervention lived with these sensor systems for an average of one year.


To monitor and track outcomes in the intervention group, assisted living staff received health alerts via e-mail when a change in a sensor’s data patterns occurred. Reports were delivered daily and covered the past 24 hours of activity. Fall alerts, on the other hand, were sent in real time so that staff could respond quickly in such situations.

The study ultimately found that there was a correlation between the use of the sensors and healthy motor skills, as well as a correlation between the use of sensors and better overall functional health of residents.

Residents receiving regular care, on the other hand, were shown to functionally decline “more rapidly” than those in the intervention group.

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While the results did not prove the sensors had any effect on health care costs, other pilot studies have shown some evidence of sensors leading to “potential cost savings.”

In fact, in a similar study, TigerPlace, a community in Columbia, Missouri, achieved a 4.3-year average length of stay for independent living residents—more than twice the national median length of stay of 1.8 years—through its care coordination in conjunction with the use of sensor technology. This study was also conducted at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing.

Overall, authors of the JAMDA study concluded that there are plenty of benefits to utilizing sensor technology in assisted living communities. For example, residents can get help early when treatment is most effective, and costly hospital or rehabilitation admissions can still be prevented.

“With the innovative technological solutions like the ones we tested in this study, elders can benefit from early detection and recognition of small changes in health conditions,” the authors wrote.

Written by Carlo Calma

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