IT-enabled home care project enters next phase

EUROPE - (HealthTech Wire / News) - Continuous monitoring, round the clock emergency services, personalized care and easy-to-use technology: these are the hallmarks of the Caalyx solution. In the wake of a successful development phase, two follow-up projects have now begun to drive the technology another step closer towards a marketable product.

"In our ageing societies, it is essential that we provide solutions to increase the time that people can stay in their familiar surroundings before having to go to a care facility," says Manuel Escriche of Telefónica Investigación y Desarrollo in Spain. Escriche is the coordinator of Caalyx, a € 3 million ambient assisted living project that received funding of € 1.85m under the umbrella of the 6th Research Framework Programme of the EU. Caalyx ("Complete Ambient Assisted Living Experiment") involved partners from Germany, Italy, Ireland, the UK and Portugal.

"The prototype we developed consists of a home monitoring system, a mobile roaming monitoring system and a caretaker center. The mobile system is able to collect five different vital signs as well as detecting falls and transmits the data to a caretaker center that can be accessed by doctors, caretakers or family members according to the individual circumstances" explains Escriche. Via GPS, the location of the elderly person can be tracked so that in the case of a medical emergency, help can be directed to wherever the person is.

Several features of the Caalyx AAL solution are unusual for this kind of project. First, every effort has been made to ensure privacy, despite continuous monitoring. "The information from the GPS tracking system, for example, cannot be accessed by anyone under normal everyday circumstances. The data are only released if there is a medical emergency, allowing the person to be detected quickly," explains Escriche. Furthermore, all patient information is carefully encrypted.

A second interesting feature of the Caalyx prototype is its high usability. "Solutions like this have to be as self-explanatory as possible. And we also have to take into account that many elderly people are not as capable with their fingers as young people. This makes it difficult to use devices with small buttons, for example." To overcome this, Caalyx uses the television as a communication interface for video-conferences with relatives, nurses and doctors, and an adapted version of Nintendo's Wii controller to operate the home system. This integration was developed by the UK-based company Synkronix.

A third differentiating feature is its adaptability to particular health features. "Doctors from Hospital Sant Antoni Abat in Spain did a wide study on Spanish elder population to identify what are the appropriate vital signs to be measured and to know the right thresholds for health alerts", points out Escriche. The Caalyx system allows doctors to customize these health thresholds, what are applied in the smart mobile phone, which was developed in Portugal by INESC Porto.

Finally, in addition to monitoring the usual vital signs such as blood pressure and ECG with devices from Germany-based telemedicine supplier Corscience, Caalyx also monitors falls and mobility using a new technology developed by the University of Limerick in Ireland. This ensures that medical assistance can be provided quickly in the case of a fall.

The Caalyx prototype was evaluated in two validation studies in Italy. One took place with ten elderly persons in a nursing home, i.e. in a "laboratory environment". In the second study, the actual target scenario was tested with five elderly people who still lived at home and who were remotely monitored by doctors and caregivers. Escriche: "Since we had developed a prototype, there were several difficulties that had to be overcome. But, overall, the feedback was very positive. The participants were actually proud to take part in a Europe-wide endeavor."

With a successful prototype having been developed, Caalyx is now moving forward within the framework of two follow-up projects. The aim of the Caalyx project, funded under the EU's AAL Joint Programme, is to improve the technology even further. Instead of carrying around a separate monitoring device, all relevant technology is to be integrated into a T-Shirt-like textile which the person can wear without thinking twice about it. In a second follow-up project, CaalyxMV, a larger market validation study is being prepared in order to move the prototype another step closer towards a marketable product.