Ready player one?

Salix Homes is helping scientists transform Xbox gaming technology into a ‘digital guardian angel’ that will help older people live independently at home for longer 

By Mark Cantrell 

GAMING technology and artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to create a system that can learn the habits of its elderly charges to better help them live more safely at home.

The technology is currently being trialled in Salford, where housing association Salix Homes has put the so-called MiiHome system to use in around 200 properties across the city. There, it is ‘keeping an eye’ on frail residents, including those with dementia and failing memory.

“The idea of MiiHome is that it acts as a sort of ‘digital guardian angel’ which is able to detect changes in behaviour that could mean something is wrong, for example someone’s gait may have slowed down, or they may be getting up more than usual in the night,” said Jonathan Drake, Salix Homes’ service director.

“Its aim is to provide an early warning system to enable health professionals to step in and provide the right sort of care before the situation escalates, and hopefully reduce hospital admissions and pressure on our already overstretched NHS.

“It’s a trailblazing project which could change the landscape of how health and housing is delivered in the future.”

The housing provider is working with the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and experts from the Universities of Salford and Manchester to explore the potential of this ‘smart home’ technology.

At the heart of the MiiHome system are tiny sensors used in Microsoft Kinect technology, more commonly associated with Xbox and Wii games consoles. This is combined with AI software that can ‘crunch’ the sensor data and learn the patterns of people’s behaviour to spot when something may be going wrong.

“The basic skeleton model provided by Microsoft Kinect has been used to develop an intelligent, personalised care system that offers cost-effective interventions,” said Professor Samia Nefti-Meziani, an expert in AI from Salford University.

“By offering personalised predictive analysis, we can assess the progression of disorders and assist clinical decisions with the specific aim of helping older people live longer in their own homes.

“Our software measures and analyses data tracked by the Wii with much greater accuracy than you could spot with the naked eye. This can tell us how fast or agilely a person is moving and maybe if they have a problem.

“It is also a learning machine which builds up an understanding of an individual’s routine and can potentially spot anything unusual. For instance, if someone has been sitting for longer than usual or if they haven’t been to the kitchen all day.”

Dr Anthony Hodgson, dementia clinical research development and delivery lead at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We want to develop a system where we can detect significant deterioration in a person’s health. This would mean we could react appropriately and avoid the more serious problems that could result when things continue to deteriorate, perhaps unnoticed. We hope that this will result in fewer people needing help in emergency or even an admission to hospital.

“Eventually this technology may be able to, for instance, detect whether someone has been unusually getting up several times during the night and alert us that there could be something wrong that could be fixed easily before it turns into something serious.”

Over the three months of the first phase of the trial, researchers from Manchester University visited the volunteers at home to gain their personal feedback on the system, and to collect the data. The second – larger – phase of the trial makes the data directly available to clinicians in ‘real time’.

“It is really important for us to know if it is practical to install this type of equipment and to learn from their experiences,” said Caroline Gardner, research associate at Manchester University.

One of the ‘guinea pigs’ is Lily McEwan, 89, who suffers from mobility issues and was one of the first to sign up for the trial. “I have quite a lot of falls at home, so I was happy to sign up to take part in the study,” she said. “If it helps more people in the future then it can only be a good thing.”

Salix’s Drake added: “We believe this kind of technology will help elderly people live safely in their homes for longer and reduce the pressure on the NHS and other care services. With an ageing population we have to look at realistic and affordable solutions to tackling the critical health and social care issues of our time.”


Main Image: (Left to right) Jonathan Drake, Salix Homes; professor Samia Nefti-Meziani, Salford University; Dr Anthony Hodgson, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust

This article first appeared in Northern Housing magazine #2 October 2018


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