Technology for Supporting Functional Autonomy and Independence

Approximately one-quarter of Canadian seniors report having some kind of physical, cognitive or sensory impairment that affects their ability to perform the common activities of daily living. TECH-FAI research focuses on two areas that can support older adults in the home and community with cognitive tasks, and technologies that address physical impairments and disabilities faced by older adults that often severely restrict their mobility and ability to remain independent. TECH-FAI will result in novel technologies that can be transferred to market through our partners, including robotics, smart home systems, and new application of artificial intelligence and sensing.

Workpackage Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
  • Helene Pigot, University of Sherbrooke


Core Research Projects

Mobile Robotics for Activities of Daily Living Assistance – 3.1 VIGIL

This project focuses on the development of mobile robots to assist older adults living at home. The technology will be capable of conducting “virtual visits” for remote consultations with medical professionals. In addition, the robots will be able to assist with advice on basic household tasks such as meal preparation, exercise/therapy, self-care and scheduling.

Project Leads
  • Francois Michaud, University of Sherbrooke
  • Goldie Nejat, University of Toronto
Researchers
  • Isabelle Gaboury, University of Sherbrooke
  • Jan Polgar, University of Western Ontario
  • Johane Patenaude, University of Sherbrooke
  • Johanne Queenton, University of Sherbrooke
  • Michel Tousignant, University of Sherbrooke
  • Éric Beaudry, Quebec University

 

Collaborative Power Mobility for an Aging Population – 3.2 CoPILOT

This project focuses on the development of intelligent scooters and power wheelchairs. These are being designed for older adults whose physical, perceptual or cognitive limitations make it difficult to learn how to drive a powered mobility device. The research team is developing  intelligent control technologies that compensative for the user’s limitations and allow the individual to become more mobile.

Project Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
  • Joelle Pineau, McGill University
Researchers
  • Dahlia Kairy, University of Montreal
  • Francois Routhier, Laval University
  • Ian Mitchell, University of British Columbia
  • Philippe Archambault, McGill University

 

Adaptable Intelligent Domestic Environments – 3.3 DIY-AIDE

DIY-AIDE (Do-it-Yourself Adaptable Intelligent Domestic Environments) aims to build a “do-it-yourself” version of a smart-home. The idea is to connect users with developers of technologies that can assist older adults in the home. It will allow them to communicate in real time about the user’s needs and the developer’s potential technological solutions.

Project Leads
  • Jesse Hoey, University of Waterloo
  • Helene Pigot, University of Sherbrooke
Researchers
  • Alex Mihailidis, Toronto Rehab Institute, University Health Network
  • Andrew Sixsmith, Simon Fraser University
  • Dominique Lorrain, University of Sherbrooke
  • Julie Robillard, University of British Columbia
  • Sylvain Giroux, University of Sherbrooke

 

Backup Sensor Technology for Wheelchairs (BSTW) – 3.4-SIP A1 NAVIGATE

Project Leads
  • Cynthia Goh, University of Toronto

 

Lightweight Electronic Reacher to Reduce Falls and Increase Independence Among Seniors – 3.5-S5

A reacher is an assistive device that allows the user to perform simple daily tasks such as safely picking up items that cannot easily be reached. Using a reacher reduces falls among seniors and provides greater independence for those with physical disabilities. However, existing reachers are manually actuated and wholly unsuitable for seniors with weakened grip strength, such as the 2.1 million Canadian seniors suffering from arthritis. In response to this need, we have developed a lightweight electronic reacher that multiplies force through the application of battery power, making it suitable for use by seniors suffering from arthritis. This project will advance the electronic reacher to market readiness by refining the engineering and industrial designs, finalizing the business plan and go-to-market strategy, evaluating the patentability and estimating production costs. This product will offer seniors who cannot operate manual reachers the same benefits of enhanced independence and reduced injuries.

Project Leads
  • James McIntyre, George Brown College

 

Refining a Medical Device to Train and Assist Individuals with Neurological Paralysis – 3.6-S5

Sustaining a stroke or spinal cord injury (SCI) negatively impacts the quality of life of older adults by restricting the individual’s functional independence. Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a promising rehabilitation intervention to improve motor function following paralysis from stroke and SCI. To facilitate the therapeutic benefits of FES, our team, in collaboration with our industrial partner (Myant Inc.), has developed innovative wearable garments that are embedded with FES-electrodes to help restore function in upper and lower limbs. To help advance our goal of commercializing these devices, we will conduct focus groups with end-users (patients and clinicians) to gain their perspectives on the prototypes. A content analysis of the discussions will highlight their concerns and expectations. The outcomes of this work will help to enhance the relevance of the devices to these populations while also providing strategies on ways to effectively bring the device to the market.

Project Leads
  • Bastien Moineau, Toronto Rehab Institute, University Health Network
  • Milos Popovic, Toronto Rehab Institute/University of Toronto

 

Barriers and facilitators of integrating an immersive wheelchair simulator (miWe) as a clinical tool for training powered wheelchair driving skills – 3.7-S5

Training is an essential aspect of power wheelchair (PWC) service delivery. However, training is not provided to a sufficient degree because of lack of time, knowledge and resources, which can lead to sub-optimal wheelchair driving skills and decreased confidence in one’s abilities. Training using a validated and portable virtual reality platform may address the need to increase the amount, frequency and efficacy of PWC skills training. The McGill Immersive Wheelchair simulator (MiWe), which has been already developed and validated for PWC training, is an innovative platform for this purpose. However, integrating MiWe into clinical practice is a challenging process. The ultimate goal of this project is to investigate the potential to implement MiWe as a PWC skills training program in a rehab setting. Stakeholder opinions will be collected through four focus groups and an online survey targeting therapists and clinical program directors.

Project Leads
  • Francois Routhier, Laval University
Researchers
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
  • Ed Giesbrecht, University of Manitoba
  • Philippe Archambault, McGill University

 

Impact of Environmental Awareness on Powered Wheelchair Driving Performance and Safety – 3.8-CAT

Individuals who do not have the strength to propel themselves in manual wheelchairs can benefit greatly from the use of powered wheelchairs, which have been linked to a higher overall quality of life. According to a report, however, 20% of power mobility devices users had experienced at least one major collision within the last year, and 11% of these users had been hospitalized. Powered wheelchair users of all ages have reported that they often face difficulties while navigating tight spaces and backing up. Although new cars have sensors that assist in backing up and collision avoidance (and are mandated in the U.S.), commercial wheelchairs do not have this technology. Our proposed research aims to understand the impact of environmental awareness on driving performance. Existing intelligent wheelchair research has attempted to autonomously or semi-autonomously perform tasks such as collision avoidance and backing up; however little attention has been paid to exploring environmental awareness with current commercial wheelchairs, and to understanding how this awareness impacts performance while executing challenging driving maneuvers. Further investigation in these areas can lead to the development of new tools that not only assist novice drivers as they learn how to drive powered wheelchairs, but also help drivers who are excluded from powered wheelchair use due to safety concerns, especially if they have deteriorating physical and/or cognitive conditions. It is anticipated that this project will 1) create tools to evaluate environmental awareness with existing chairs and drivers, 2) help understand the role of environmental awareness while driving, 3) provide recommendations on tools that might enhance environmental awareness, and 4) potentially help increase access to powered wheelchairs and safety for a large population that is currently excluded. This pilot will be the start of an iterative process to evaluate various technologies developed within AGE-WELL WP3 (Technology for Supporting Functional Autonomy and Independence) with stakeholders.

Project Leads
  • Bill Miller, University of British Columbia
Researchers
  • Dahlia Kairy, University of Montreal
  • Joelle Pineau, McGill University

 

Organizing Medication Monitoring for the Elderly and their Caregivers within a Business Homecare Ecosystem – 3.9-CAT

In most industrialized countries, seniors make up the fastest growing age group. All Canadian provinces’ health systems are concerned since patients over the age of 65 are among the top users of healthcare resources. In Quebec, as of July 2016, the proportion of people aged 65 and over was estimated at 18.1% in 2016, 25.2% in 2031 and 28.5% in 2061.

Constant medication monitoring is crucial to maintaining satisfactory health since persistent pain is highly prevalent, costly and frequently disabling in the older patient’s life (Makris, Abrams, Gurland, & Reid, 2014; Weiner & Rudy, 2002).

Unfortunately, currently, medication monitoring is far from being secure, due to frequent errors, from the loss of medication to confusion in medication intakes. When the elderly struggle with multiple disease states and chronic conditions, medication regimes that are not well controlled might be a source of drug misadventures and adverse effects, including morbidity and mortality (McDonnell, Jacobs, Monsanto, & Kaiser, 2002). Mismanaged medication is also an important driver of hospital admissions, increasing health costs (Osterberg & Blaschke, 2005). Therefore, the research and development firm MediPense is working on a smart personal medication dispensing and remote monitoring solution that can assist seniors with their medication management in their homes. MediPense is joining its efforts to the RxPense® firm (RxPense, 2016), taking charge of the whole range of device commercialization in Quebec and in other Canadian provinces and territories.

The RxPense technology has the potential to transform the medication intake monitoring practice through smart digital surveillance. This research project is a preliminary proof-of-concept study of organizing medication monitoring for the elderly and their caregivers within a business ecosystem of homecare where the social, ethical, economic and policy implications are considered. It aims to describe and explain how and why RxPense is adopted and how it might reduce hospitalization costs while increasing homecare quality.

Project Leads
  • Réjean Hébert, University of Montreal
  • Francisco-Javier Olleros, Université du Québec à Montréal

 

Usability testing of a mHealth application and internet portal for managing chronic arthritis and joint health – 3.10-SIP A1

The incidence of arthritis conditions is projected to increase markedly as the number of older adults in Canada increases. Currently, the diagnosis and care of arthritis and its symptoms occurs at clinics and hospitals. Unfortunately, this is expensive to healthcare systems, inconvenient for patients, involves extensive waiting lists for services and ultimately leads to insufficient monitoring of patients’ symptoms. These issues are multiplied for Canada’s vulnerable senior population. The LiveWith Arthritis Plus (LWAP) platform addresses these problems by making heavy medical imaging equipment and diagnosis accessible by a smartphone and a web portal, in the convenience of the home. Having developed a successful prototype, the next obvious step is to ensure that LWAP meets the needs of end users, including older patients with arthritis, care providers and clinicians. This research will involve user studies in collaboration and consultation with key stakeholders including The Arthritis Society of Canada, Pain BC and Arthritis Consumer Experts. This research project will be led by Dr. Diane Gromala, Canada Research Chair and Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Gromala brings extensive experience in the field of human-computer interaction and has a decade of experience collaborating on CIHR-funded arthritis research. The successful completion of this project will enhance our understanding of the specific needs of older users regarding technology and chronic disease self-management, align research with the commercialization requirements for medical devices, enable eTreatMD to proceed with future clinical trials of LWAP and ultimately position the company to launch LWAP nationwide in 2018. This collaborative research will also generate end-user interest and trust, in order to ensure that this initial market push is done with a product that has been validated and meets relevant users’ needs. eTreatMD projects that total downloads for LWAP could reach 200,000 new users globally by 2019.

Project Leads
  • Diane Gromala, Simon Fraser University

 

Scalable Heuristics for Assistive Design and Elaboration – 3.11-SIP A2

An increasing number of designers wish to conceive innovative products or services for older adults with special needs and family caregivers. Both groups have distinct but overlapping needs that require good understanding and close working between designers and these intended end users. However, little practical knowledge is available in efficient and attractive ways to integrate them into the design process.

The DATcares workshop highlighted this problem and introduced an innovative bottom-up approach that showed how relevant design principles could be identified by a transdisciplinary effort gathering caregivers, researchers, occupational therapists, designers, technology developers, industries and policy makers. Following these findings, it was decided to replicate this approach at a bigger scale in order to share successful design principles throughout the design community.

Scalable Heuristics for Assistive Design and Elaboration (SHADE) is a documented resource to support the design of assistive technology that cares’; namely, to support designers in creating products and services that better support the fundamental needs of both caregivers and care-recipients. SHADE encompasses the key-components of the well-being and the integration of caregiving within various occupational roles (employment, leisure, social interactions...) that enhance the quality of both their caregiving and their relationship with the care-recipient. Additionally, SHADE provides recommendations to integrate technologies and services in the social environment of those who are receiving care.

With this in mind, SHADE defines, disseminates, and supports a set of design heuristics and user-centered methods to globally improve the quality of assistive technologies by encompassing caregivers' and care-recipients' holistic needs. These heuristics will be conveyed to industry and practitioners through a deck of cards and a reference booklet, providing definitions of design principles, best practices and concrete examples. These products will be downloadable for free and premium printed versions will be available at production cost.

Project Leads
  • Helene Pigot, University of Sherbrooke

 

The Steadiglove – 3.12-SIP A2

Project Leads
  • Cynthia Goh, University of Toronto

 

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