Smart Homes for community living

May. 23, 2019

Study testing smart technologies to support people with severe mental illness

Release originally published by Lawson Research

LONDON, ON – A first-of-its-kind research study by Lawson Health Research Institute is moving into the community and evaluating the use of smart technologies in the home for people with severe mental illness.

After prototyping this approach within a hospital setting through St. Joseph’s Health Care London, the research team will be outfitting eight affordable housing units at Canadian Mental Health Association Middlesex and London and Middlesex Community Housing with smart home technology.

“This solution is for people who are having difficulty managing their everyday life and need a high level of care to maintain community living,” says Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, Assistant Scientific Director at Lawson and project lead for the Smart Home Community Model. “Technology and applications are being embedded in the lived environment and then tested to ensure they are safe, secure and appropriate for use in health care.”

Study participants will select from a wide range of tools that will best meet their individual needs. Devices such as smartphones and touch-screen monitors connect with applications to provide video-conferencing, questionnaires, and prompts and reminders based on the person’s care plan. They will also have access to automated medication dispensers and smart health monitoring devices, such as weigh scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, and tracking monitors for heart rate, activity and sleep.

“By integrating and testing these smart tools for health care, we are not simply looking at the technology but how it can be used as a tool for communication,” says Dr. Forchuk. “We see smart technology supporting more seamless communication between health care providers and the client – all from their own homes. This helps them better manage their care and overall wellbeing, flag issues earlier on and avoid trips to the clinic when appropriate.”

Some of the tools as part of this project have previously been tested and shown positive results.

The health team has access to the data to more easily stay in touch with the person. They can work together to track trends and pinpoint triggers, creating more personalized and effective strategies. With less focus on the daily aspects of care, providers reported that in-person meetings offered more meaningful and important discussions.

“All of the data is also viewable by the client who continues to work with a health care provider,” explains Dr. Forchuk. Clients can reach out sooner and get support more quickly. Potential issues and crisis are addressed earlier on, and in previous studies they reduced psychiatric readmissions, emergency room visits and arrests. Clients reported more satisfaction with their care and feeling better overall.

The team anticipates that participants will experience greater levels of independence and autonomy in maintaining housing and self-care for mental health and chronic illnesses.

Dr. Forchuk adds that “our approach is to care for the whole person – mind, body and soul. It goes beyond managing the mental illness and is about supporting people in managing their life.”

The team already has four people enrolled in the study. In addition to people living alone, they will have participants with roommates and families to test the strategy under various real-life situations. The initial study will take place over one year.

This project has received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and AGE-WELL.

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For more information, please contact:

Laura Goncalves
Communications & External Relations
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 64059
C: 226-448-1525

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