UTA Researchers Unveil “Smart Apartment” for Seniors

It looks like an ordinary apartment – walk in and you’ll find a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

“That’s the idea,” said Dr. Kathryn Daniel, an Associate Professor of Nursing at UT-Arlington. “You’re able to do that unobtrusively – behind the scenes.”

But make no mistake, a special unit at the Lakewood Village Senior Living Community in Fort Worth is one of the most technologically advanced homes you’ll find anywhere.

“It’s a living laboratory,” said Daniel.

With the help of more than $600,000 in federal funding, a team of researchers at UT-Arlington created a “Smart Care Apartment.” It’s designed to help senior citizens stay healthy and independent.

“I think they’re going to be really excited about that because the ability to hold on to your independence is key,” said Phil Elmore, CEO of Christian Care which operates Lakewood Village.

Every inch of the apartment is outfitted with state-of-the-art technology that collects information about the well-being of the person living there.

For example, each of the floor tiles in the apartment is equipped with motion sensors so it can monitor a person’s movement. Researchers say that’s helpful because the apartment will recognize when someone falls and can immediately call for help without that person doing anything.

The floors also watch for any changes in the way a person walks.

“It can tell if maybe one step is shorter than the other or weaker than the other,” said Daniel. “And if something like that happens and it’s new, then that’s an opportunity to intervene before the person has an acute event like a fall.”

Other technology inside the apartment includes special mirrors that use cameras to measure heart rates and skin coloration, again checking for abnormalities. Daniel says to protect the privacy of residents, the cameras will not record images.

The team will spend the next five years studying how the apartment interacts with people, who will each live there for a month.

Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX 6) , who helped secure the funding for the project, says it has major implications.

“It could lead to some breakthrough discovery that saves millions and millions of lives,” said Barton.

Daniel believes the technology has applications outside of senior communities.

“Our hope is that we would be able to develop products that could be implemented in people’s homes,” said Daniel.

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