TRIL: Supporting Independant Living
Life expectancy has increased dramatic over the last century, which when coupled with low birth rates has dramatically skewed our ageing population demographic.
In the next 50 years, the number of older people will have nearly quadruple, growing from about 600 million to almost 2 billion people. Today, one in every ten people is 60 years and older. By 2050, this will become one out of every five, and by 2150, one third of the people in the world are expected to be 60 years of age or older.
As the ageing population demographic in the western world continues to increase, this has put severe pressure on clinical resources. Some 861 million people worldwide with chronic diseases are using up to 85 percent of health-care spending. Health-care providers are more than 10 years behind other big business when it comes to the utilisation of technology.
The TRIL Centre’s mission is to discover and deliver technology solutions which support independent ageing, ideally in a home environment. This will improve the quality of life of older citizens while reducing the burden on carers and the healthcare system.
The centre is funding by Intel and the IDA, and consists of a multidisciplinary team of about 60 researchers including ethnographers, cognitive scientists, clinicians and computer scientists from UCD, TCD and NUIG. The TRIL project is split into 5 separate research themes:
- The Ethnographic theme involves the observation of older people in their day to day lives, with the aim of getting a real world understanding of how technology can have a positive impact on their quality of life.
- The Falls Prevention theme looks at the early detection of postural and neurocardiovascular instability in older people. The key objective is to enable prediction and prevention of falls and blackouts through measurement of neurophysiological, behavioural and cardiac responses in the real-world environment.
More specifically, the aim of the theme is to identify key characteristics of fallers, identify new multifactorial algorithms for fall prediction and new technologies for monitoring, feedback and intervention.
- Cognitive Function theme looks at the area of impaired cognitive function and dementia in older people. In particular, this theme is examining ways to improve cognitive function to allow older people to have healthier lives and to live independently.
- Social Connection theme explores ways in which technology can facilitate social interaction among the ecosystems of ageing populations. This theme addresses the problem of social isolation felt by many elderly people which can contribute to an overall decline in their mental and physical health.
The final theme represents UCD's contribution to this project: the development of the TRIL technology platform. The UCD team consists of about 15 researchers who are developing a common, open architecture technology platform which supports the technology needs of the project’s other research themes. These needs include the development of software and hardware for devices such as home sensors, mobile physiological status monitors, and communication assistants. In particular, the aim of the platform is to support the strategic implementation of rapid prototypes which showcase the research outputs of the various themes in a coherent fashion.
The first software release from the TRIL platform is the BioMOBIUS toolkit. BioMOBIUS consists of both hardware and software elements:
- The BioMOBIUS toolkit contains a software platform suitable for for large scale deployment of rapid biosignal application development. It supports all the software needs of the TTP (TRIL Technology Platform) and thus all of the TRIL Centre clinical strands, allowing the creation of complex biosignal applications for older people quickly and reliably.
- The BioMOBIUS toolkit contains a hardware platform named SHIMMER (Sensing Health with Intelligence, Modularity, Mobility, and Experimental Reusability). SHIMMER is a small wireless sensor platform designed to support wearable sensing applications.
SHIMMER is one element of the BioMOBIUS toolkit and has the long term goal of facilitating research in independent living technologies.
BioMOBIUS has been used to create the TRIL Centre Gait Analysis Platform built in collaboration with clinicians from the TRIL Centre Falls Prevention. So far 80 developers have been trained to use the BioMobius at a recent full-day workshop organised by TRIL. Since the release of BioMobius toolkit in August - there have been 250 downloads.
A key challenge in healthcare research is the amount of time that is consumed by technology development. In a typical research project, a significant amount of the researcher’s time may be spent creating the foundational technologies required to get to the point of collecting data. The BioMOBIUS Research Platform addresses this issue, allowing researchers to leverage previous technology development efforts and making significant savings in development time overheads. BioMOBIUS is the first open research platform for biomedical research using wearable sensors.
The TRIL project recently won a prestigious Irish Healthcare 2008 Award for the Best Use of Information Technology. This award recognises the innovative use of information technology in a healthcare context to improve efficiencies in the health service and deliver better patient care. TRIL’s Building Bridges research project was also recently featured on an Irish TV station, TV3. http://www.tv3.ie/ireland_am.php?video=5483