Tech tools could disclose physical and emotional info

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Dr. Ethan Berke, M.D.
Dr. Ethan Berke, M.D.
Wireless mobile technology that can track daily activities such as walking, sitting and standing could help unearth important physical and emotional health data, new research suggests.

In a small pilot study, investigators outfitted eight elderly continuing care community residents (average age 85) with wireless mobile sensors around their waists. Worn for 10 days, the sensors monitored daily activities and behaviors, which the researchers say correlate with a person's physical and psychological health.

Data collected from these sensors could potentially help healthcare providers predict early symptoms of dementia, heart problems or depression, researchers said. They added that this collection method is easier than surveys and other self-reporting formats.

“Automated systems able to infer detailed measures of a person's social interactions and physical activities in their natural environments could lead to better understanding of factors influencing well-being,” noted Ethan M. Berke, M.D., MPH, director of the Prevention Research Center, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.
“Mobile sensing of sociability and activity is well correlated with traditional measures and less prone to biases associated with questionnaires that rely on recall,” the study authors wrote.

Full findings appear in the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Participants reported that the device was easy to use, comfortable to wear, and more convenient than written questionnaires. Study authors also noted that sensing data could potentially be linked to patients' electronic health records.

In an accompanying editorial, University of Saskatchewan scientists said sensor-based monitoring can bring unprecedented “high-fidelity contextual information.”

“Widespread adoption of these systems is feasible and plausible,” they added.