While inaccessible homes pose a big challenge to older adults, modifying them to their needs is even more challenging in today’s complex healthcare system and housing industry. The home modification industry as a whole is highly fragmented between healthcare professionals, home assessment, and handyman services. Navigating between them while dealing with health conditions is not easy. Mistrust and lack of knowledge prevails.
For the research team, navigating this fragmented system to recruit and contact participants was very challenging. High cost of home modifications also limited the extent with which we could modify their homes to the fullest extent. This in turn reduced the potential health benefit of home modification. The home is intrinsically personal and that has a life’s long accumulated meaning to older adults. Changing to their medical needs was not always compatible with their ideal image of home, making them resist some of key recommendations.
An additional challenge came from trying to track the individual in their home. While GPS systems have provided a proven way to track location in outdoor spaces, these technologies do not work while indoors. The team explored a variety of different technological solutions, from the use of Bluetooth beacons, to fingerprinting of WIFI routers. While these solutions showed some early promise, it was determined that their accuracy was not yet reliable enough to be used in the field.
In turn the team turned to utilizing a wearable camera that would capture an image on a 30 second interval for 24 hours continuously. Each image was then referenced against other images of the home to determine the location of the individual. This method had several challenges as images angles sometimes made locations difficult to decipher. Furthermore, periods of continuous movement would result in rooms being overlooked due to the low sampling rate. Finally, the participants sometimes felt uncomfortable wearing the camera, leading to additional form of potential data loss.
Despite these challenges, the context provided by the location alongside the biomarkers was seen as providing new insights into participant’s health in their home. Future work will aim to provide this data in a more reliable, less invasive and more automated fashion.
The biggest challenge of course was the COVID19 pandemic. The yearlong field data collection came to a complete halt in 8.5 months. The research team invested the rest of the project period on a high-level visualization.