New Tech for Eldercare: Designing Apps so Physical Therapists can Remotely Help Independent Living

By Lori Cameron and Michael Martinez
Published 07/27/2017
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Seniors, do you want to live at home independently without your family worrying about your chronic conditions?

Adult children, do you wish there were some way to keep an eye on aging parents?

Well, some new technology could be on the way.

Researchers are offering a design for an app that would allow physical therapists to remotely monitor an elderly person’s gait and physical health status and then allow them to remotely intervene and provide therapies to the elderly person so that he or she can overcome any risk of falling.

Design of interface for an eldercare app
This screenshot provides the physical therapist view of an interactive interface (left side shows the patient, right side shows the therapist). The right side top alignment parameters are informed by depth sensor data, and exercise activities are administered using voice commands.

The technology is especially designed to provide eldercare in rural and sometimes suburban areas where travel times to a medical office can be very long, according to University of Missouri-Columbia scientists who wrote a study entitled “Toward an ElderCare Living Lab for Sensor-Based Health Assessment and Physical Therapy” (login may be required for full text) in IEEE Cloud Computing magazine.

Their article presents a design for an “ElderCare-as-a-SmartService” (ECaaS) system that integrates apps for in-home health monitoring and remote physical therapy coaching.

Read research article here. (login may be required for full text)

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“The focus is on the transformation of the Apps into a cloud-based living lab, which then enables on-going App development/refinement to realize a real-world enhanced living environment for eldercare that is secure, privacy-preserving and socially embedded,” the authors write.

“With emerging digital technology and multisensor techniques, new approaches for ongoing health assessment are emerging to realize enhanced living environments (ELEs) for eldercare. While older adults stay in the home of their choice, in-home sensors can be used to monitor older adults’ activity patterns; smart algorithms recognize changes in the patterns and send health alerts to care coordinators to flag potential health changes and administer targeted coaching,” they write.

As the number of elderly people continues to grow, researchers are looking for ways to improve health monitoring and care for senior citizens without requiring them to make constant trips to the doctor.

walk captured in sensor
A walk captured in a private home using a depth sensor.

They ElderCare-as-a-SmartService (ECaaS) has two key components:

  • An in-home health alert system that gathers information from sensors that monitor the patient’s movement throughout the house, changes in gait such as limping, and sleep patterns. This information allows doctors and therapists to analyze a patient’s health and offer treatment remotely.
  • An in-home remote physical therapy application that allows physical therapists to use video to assess the patient’s gait and balance, qualitatively and quantitatively.

While some elderly people end up in nursing homes, the overwhelming majority of them continue to lead independent lives, even well past retirement age.

architecture graphic
ElderCare-as-a-SmartSevice cloud-based services architecture for PhysicalTherapy-as-a-Service app delivery.

Most elderly people continue to live in their own homes or, in some cases, a minimal care facility where they are provided with meals and housekeeping services. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the average 75 year old has three chronic conditions and uses five different prescription drugs.

The researchers say their cloud-based app design has its share of challenges, however:

  • Ensuring stable network performance and performance-tuned cloud platforms for large-scale sensor information analysis.
  •  Designing an interactive interface and intuitive displays suitable for effective interactions between older adults and physical therapists.
  • Integrating apps in their social context of use as secure, privacy-preserving, and socially embedded technologies.

Nevertheless, the promise of remote monitoring and care could offer huge benefits to families.

“Our ECaaS design has the potential to improve quality of life for older adults and their care coordinators through pertinent social embedding of apps within ELEs for eldercare,” they conclude.

Read more in Computer Society about eldercare

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About Lori Cameron

Lori Cameron is a Senior Writer for the IEEE Computer Society and currently writes regular features for Computer magazine, Computing Edge, and the Computing Now and Magazine Roundup websites. Contact her at Follow her on LinkedIn.


Michael Martinez

About Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez, the editor of the Computer Society’s Computer.Org website and its social media, has covered technology as well as global events while on the staff at CNN, Tribune Co. (based at the Los Angeles Times), and the Washington Post. He welcomes email feedback, and you can also follow him on LinkedIn.