Wearable Sensors and Systems – Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation Review

April 22, 2016

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation issued a very informative article with regards to various medical sensors and systems used in rehabilitation. Full title of the article – “A review of wearable sensors and systems with application in rehabilitation”.

The review covers several groups of wearable sensors and systems that are currently either used or are likely to be implemented in the field of rehabilitation. It also focuses on the topics why the issue is growing in importance and how the systems in question are likely to improve the quality of life of different groups with regards to their needs.

The research notes that the level of medical care has grown recently and has the lifespan prolonged as well as the chances for recovery from various conditions increased. It also addresses the issue of perspective “baby boomers” going into retirement in large numbers in the following years, which will lead to increased need in Medicare system further progress and reform.

The answer to many consequential questions is seen in the further development of already existing remote monitoring and wearable systems and sensors. One of the reasons the research focuses on these Medicare aspects is that “Nearly 20% of those in the US live in rural areas, but only 9% of physicians work in rural areas” – which leads to a relevant conclusion that remote monitoring systems are very likely to occupy the niche that real doctors and nurses cannot – literally, they are capable of taking up at least two major functions of the former – diagnostics and monitoring. The study also mentions all the possible pitfalls and challenges that can be expected on the stages of such systems’ utilization and deployment on the large scale.

There are three major blocks that are discussed in the article: wearable sensors and systems, home monitoring systems (medical alert systems), telemedicine and smart home opportunities.

Wearable Sensors and Systems

This group carries out several functions. First of all, they are employed to collect/sense physiological and movement data. Secondly, transmittance of the data to the remote monitoring center. And finally, actual extraction of information from the received data.

One key point of such systems relates to progress in microelectronics; the other lies in the word “wearable” – the usage of all these devices can be made as much comfortable to a person as it is now possible, due to advances in material science (e-textile based systems development). Such systems are meant to transmitted collected data to a remote site (a hospital server) – and mobile technologies impact a great deal into the process, especially smartphones.

Sensing Technologies: Wearable and Ambient Sensors

Wearable Sensors.wearable

These are actually the sensors that a person literally wears on their body. They are meant to collect physiological measures such as heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure as well as blood oxygen saturation, muscle activity and etc. These parameters provide an opportunity to indicate a person’s health status and up to now they were hard to be collected somewhere else apart from at a hospital.

Ambient Sensors.

This group is directly related to the first as it usually goes as a part of a complex remote monitoring system; they are used for home environment subjects monitoring. They mainly include different sensors and motion detectors located on doors and floors/walls and are aimed to detect opening of various things in the house and – even more importantly – falls. Such “smart home” technologies are widely used in rehabilitation (e.g. AAL, or ambient assisted living application.

Applications

Major groups covered in the article are: health and wellness monitoring, safety monitoring, home rehabilitation, assessment of treatment efficacy and early detection of disorders.

Health and Wellness Monitoring.

Such commercial applications are meant to collect various measures such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation, body temperature, respiratory rate and many others. Examples: LiveNet, MyHeart, WEALTHY and MagIC, to name a few.

Safety Monitoring.

These emergency response systems, or medical alert systems, as they are also known, are simple sets that consist of a base unit station and a pendant or watch/wristband with a button. Pressing the button transmits a signal to and operation center and indicates operators located in a remote call center that a patient requires assistance. Examples: Medical Guardian, Lifefone, Life Alert, and etc.

Home Rehabilitation.

These are systems that aim to deploy rehabilitation exercise programs that combine both sensing technology and interactive gaming or virtual reality (VR) environments. Examples: Valedo system by Hocoma AG.

Assessment of Treatment Efficacy.

This is a very significant tool that can help clinicians in the management of various ailments. It is also valuable for randomized clinical trials as accurate and objective information on symptoms helps to create a better picture of a condition as well as considerable reduce the term of treatment/number of patients when it comes to any new therapy.

Early Detection of Disorders.

Wearable technology can be used here with the aim to detect any alternations in a patient’s health condition prior to any requiring clinical intervention. Example: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease monitoring and treatment and dementia.

Conclusion

The study concludes that the initial wearable technology researches were mostly focused on the requirements (mostly engineering ones) that were involved in wearable sensors and systems development and deployment; while more recent researches are prone to mostly dwell on the aforementioned systems’ application.

At the present moment a great deal of effort is made in the direction of such systems and technologies integration with the additional emphasis on data analysis technologies importance in successful remote monitoring of individuals at home and their environment.

The full text of the article can be found at the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation page on Biomedcentral.com.

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