Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast have received almost half a million dollars in Commonwealth funding to participate in a large European-run international trial that is developing and testing technology to help older people stay in their homes.

USC’s Professor of Disruptive Technologies Stuart Smith and Associate Professor of Neuropsychology and Mental Health Mathew Summers secured a $496,000 National Health and Medical Research Council grant to participate in the multi-million-dollar European Commission Horizon 2020 project “My-AHA: My Active and Healthy Ageing” with 15 other institutions across Europe, Korea and Japan.

The multidisciplinary global project, which involves academic and industry partners, aims to develop a commercially viable, home-based, smart computer system to diagnose and rehabilitate people with frailty.

Professor Stuart Smith, professor of digital disruption at University of the Sunshine Coast.
Professor Stuart Smith

Professor Smith said the technology suite would be developed in Europe over the next two years and then tested in the final two years of the project in a multi-centre, international, randomised controlled trial that will include 50 older Sunshine Coast residents.

“We’re interested in getting to the point where an older person’s home can be kitted out with unobtrusive familiar technologies that we can add some value to and measure various states of health, particularly in the frailty state of an older person,” Professor Smith told Technology Review.

“We are interested in finding out whether we get a snapshot of where they are at on a regular basis by getting them to engage in the types of technologies they are familiar with, such as their mobile phones, their tablet PCs, maybe their smart TVs and potentially even game consoles using gamified technology.”

Professor Smith, who has more than a decade experience in aged care technology, said he would contribute to the project from the technology perspective, while Dr Summers would draw on his experience in the field of cognitive and mental health, which was a large part of the study.

“We will use the technology to monitor participants’ health and generate tailored interventions that aim to reduce the physical, social, cognitive and psychological effects of frailty, including factors such falls, depression, social isolation and memory problems,” Dr Summers said.

The 15 institutions will implement the same solution in each country, which enabled each to run a relatively small trial then pool all the data together to end up with a decent sample size from across a number of jurisdictions, Professor Smith said.

“Our role in all of this is to firstly provide some input into the decision making process about what kinds of technologies and markers of health we would like to integrate into those technologies. Once we have the technology suite can we put that into the homes of older adults [in Australia] to monitor some of the outcomes we are interested in.”

Their role also included adapting the implementation of the technology to the Australian context, he said.

As for the technology being developed, Professor Smith said some partners in Europe and Japan already had different solutions they would be integrating into the project along with technologies developed in a previous EU grant he was involved in while at NeuRA called iStopFalls.

He said the grant was a big win for USC and the well-connected and enthusiastic local population of older adults.

The Sunshine Coast is “like a living laboratory” and the perfect location for this test because there is a relatively large and increasing number of older adults living in the area making it a useful test bed to explore these ideas, he said.

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