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CVC Spin Off

CARE RESPITE: Intelligent tech for elderly care

Credit: Pressfoto/Freepik

Longevity is at its highest in Human History. Despite the differences between countries, life expectancy has registered spectacular advances in general terms. According to the World Health Organisation, life expectancy has increased by 5 years since 2000, surpassing the average of 80 years in many countries. On the contrary, fertility rates are at their lowest point. Both situations bring us to a fast ageing population within developed countries.

The percentage of older people is rising steadily and is predicted to increase further during the following decades. Elderliness implies not being able to carry out daily life activities by oneself, which takes developed countries face to face with a high percentage of care-dependent people with mobility difficulties, physical or mental disorders. In fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance only in the U.S, 34.2 million people were providing unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older in 2016.

Every caregiver needs respite

Being a caregiver is not a simple task by any means. Most of these figures are relatives or friends of the dependent person which normally have to combine this task with a full time job.

CVC’s spin off Care Respite was born with the aim of improving these situations. With the latest computer vision technology, Care Respite provides an intelligent device which monitors dependent people at home and in institutions in a totally anonymous way, registering and interpreting the different situations a dependent person can come across. As its name clearly points out, it was thought by the founders as a solution to provide some time for the caregivers to take a breath: “This device is not thought to work 24 hours a day but only the moment that the caregiver is having a respite”, as explained by Dr. Sergio Escalera, co-founder of Care Respite and UB-CVC researcher.  

Care Respite was created as a project within Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona UAB’s Research Park idea marathons where both technology and health sector professionals networked in order to look for effective solutions in the healthcare industry. In 2016, Care Respite was selected by the CaixaImpulse programme, a grant which aims to create biotech companies, promoting the transformation of scientific knowledge while creating societal value.

How does it work?

Care Respite is a small sized portable device consisting of a camera, a small computer and a microphone. The camera monitors the dependent person in RGB-depth (a laser sensor calculating objects in depth, even in night scenes), and then sends the information into the Cloud, where the images are processed and the different situations detected. If the camera detects a specific situation, the device sends a prompt alert to the caregiver’s phone.

The different eventualities are detected by the movement of the care-dependent person. Caregivers can determine which ones they want to be alerted of. According to Dr. Jordi Gonzàlez, co-founder of Care Respite and UAB-CVC researcher, “at first users would tell us the kind of events they were interested to be alerted of. Initially, we found out that they wanted to be aware of falls but, as they realised the technology’s potential, they started asking us to include other type of situations”. These other cases were, for instance, entering or leaving a room, getting up and sitting down on a bed or chair. To make it even more interesting, Care Respite’s tech allow the detection of certain gesticulations even when the patient is sleeping.

Caregivers can receive alerts of all these situations on their smartphone, with the image depth video and some statistics. There is a limitation though, this being only possible when the caregiver is the patient’s relative. When Care Respite is used in a nursing home or in an institution, images are not provided due to privacy purposes. In all cases, caregivers have the possibility of communicating with the dependent person by microphone and so check if everything is fine.

Care Respite

Care Respite also has the ability to recognise long term events. Elderly people tend to have strict habits and routine patterns which they usually repeat frequently. The majority of cases, these habits are almost undetectable and they seem irrelevant in the short term. However, the camera can observe micro expressions to detect little variations in a dependent person’s behaviour. This function is essential as it can provide valuable information and so detect the possible development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer.

The importance of Care Respite

Care Respite was installed through the Barcelona City Council in PAMEM (Primary Care Centres) and IMMS (Municipal Institute of Social Services) entities in order to be evaluated. In this way, pilots were tested in public nursing homes and private homes. In both cases, results were clearly satisfying: “All users had positive experiences and favourable opinions. There were a few complaints, focused on its design and usability. Suggestions were to simplify the switch mechanism, but nobody complained about the technology and the movement detection”, as claimed by Dr. Xavier Baró, co-founder of Care Respite and UOC-CVC researcher.

In an increasingly aged society like ours, a technology like Care Respite is becoming more and more necessary, not only in terms of security for the increasing population of elderly people but also for the caregiver’s quality of life. “After all”, as Dr. Gonzàlez stated, “all of us have plenty of chances of becoming a caregiver at some point in our lives”.

Computer Vision has the ability of giving us intelligent devices to help us on our day to day lives and start-ups just like Care Respite are rapidly changing the future of medicine and wellbeing at this very moment.

For more information, visit their website here: http://www.care-respite.com/

Nuria Martínez

The author Nuria Martínez