News & Views
24 May 2021

Assistive technology for health
and social care:
How can noise monitoring help
the most vulnerable?

Home automation devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Siri can play a song, order a pizza or do a quick online search, all through voice control.  But what if they could do more than give us a few laughs — what if they could save lives? Here at KP Acoustics, we’ve looked closer at the potential of this tech.

Contactless cardiac arrest detection

A proof-of-concept study in 2019 asked the very same question, and showed that home assistants can accurately identify specific patterns of breathing known as agonal breathing, or gasping for air. This type of breathing occurs when a cardiac arrest is looming.

The technology, which was developed from monitoring and analysing actual episodes of agonal breathing from emergency services calls, was able to detect agonal breathing events 97 per cent of the time from up to 6 meters away. There’s no need for skin patches or additional leads, it just relies on noise transmission.

If the likes of Alexa or Siri detect this type of breathing, they could contact the emergency services automatically with inbuilt data on the resident’s address, medical history and current state. This technology could mean the difference between life and death.

For people living alone such as the elderly, or those with mobility issues, there are opportunities to harness this technology to specifically support these people. The noise and vibration in a person’s home is a rich data source that indicates health, safety and wellbeing. Or a reduction in noise could be indicative that something is wrong…

Imagine an elderly woman has had a fall in her house. The home assistant could detect the abnormal thud of vibration, and a period of silence. This alarming event could mean the device notifies relatives or social workers to this abnormality, so that the woman gets the help she desperately needs.

Technology tribulations

This technology will have a way to go before it is widespread. Noise and vibration in the home is a fruitful mixture of noise sources, from television, cooking and neighbours to name just a few. We will need to do more research to get it right. However, the device might not get it right 100 per cent of the time, as shown in the proof-of-concept study mentioned above.

It may be that these mass-market devices aren’t entirely equipped to measure the nuances of soundwaves, and that we will need to integrate third-party noise and vibration monitoring devices to the home automation system. Or, we might solely rely on purpose built home-health monitoring devices that have no connection to Alexa, Siri or Google Home. If this is the case, traditional noise monitoring equipment will need a rethink.

Noise monitoring equipment is often thought of as bulky and cumbersome. Luckily, noise and vibration monitoring technology is making huge strides in making consumer friendly devices. Future devices and application software could be at the heart of social care, allowing the vulnerable to contact relatives or care workers through voice control and giving relatives piece of mind that their loved one is safe.

The future looks promising for this noise monitoring application, particularly as it may take at least some strain off already over-capacity healthcare services. Whether this technology will be built into commercial home assistants like Alexa, Siri or Google Home or relies on a purpose-built device designed by an acoustic consultant remains uncertain. What really matters is more lives will be saved through effective noise monitoring.

So, what do you think the future has instore for assistive technology?

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