The iCarer platform will consist of a number of modules which provide the services to support the informal carer as shown in the diagram below.
The iCarer platform provides a monitoring environment where the assistance tasks which carers provide Activities of daily cares (ADCs) are monitored to detect early symptoms of burden and stress. With the intention of increasing the informal carer’s peace of mind when they are not at the older adult’s home, iCarer will monitor the older adult’s Activities of daily living (ADL) in order to supervise their performance and detect possible problems.
One of the main issues to achieve in the iCarer platform is the unobtrusiveness of monitoring the tasks. Therefore the sensors employed in the monitoring environment (motion sensors, room occupancy, bed sensors, electrical appliance usage sensors, etc.) will be distributed in the older adult’s home and transparently register the actions that carers and the elderly perform. This sensor equipment will be based on Tunstall’s ADLife product with activity and stress monitoring sensors which provide older adults with ADL monitoring aimed at preventing possible undesirable situations. Considering the ADLife platform, a specific point arises in having simultaneous older adult and informal caregiver’s presence. In order to distinguish between both users’ presence, an additional technology will be used: a real-time motion capture system provided by time-of-flight sensors.
After analysing the data obtained in monitoring procedures, a behavioural pattern of both informal carers and older adult will be inferred. In the case of the informal carer, the behavioural pattern will be combined with psychological stress measurement questionnaires to determine assistance tasks which generate significant burden and stress. The informal carer’s interaction with the platform’s services will be also monitored and merged with the behavioural patterns. On the other hand, adult’s behavioural patterns will be automatically generated in order to automatically detect problems in ADL execution. Both behavioural patterns will be sent to the “Guidance & Orientation” module to decide the actions to be performed.
Once the behavioural patterns have been sent from the monitoring module they will be processed in the guidance module with the aim of detecting possible problems in the informal caregiver’s ADC performance and any stress situation. As a result, a suitable guidance or recommendation will be generated to improve the assistance task of the informal carer. The Knowledge Management System (KMS) will be responsible for deciding the most appropriate recommendation to the informal caregiver depending on their needs or preferences. When the caregiver is not at the older adult’s home, possible problems may occur during the older adult’s ADL execution. These will be detected and guidance will be provided to the older adult to correct that problem.
The KMS will personalize and adapt the recommendations provided by means of an ontology which manages knowledge about the platform users’ profiles. If the behavioural pattern belongs to an informal caregiver the generated guidance will be sent to the e-Learning module to provide the informal carer with contents according to the guidance proposed. In the case of the older adult’s behavioural pattern, the virtual carer module will receive such guidance.
The iCarer platform through the “virtual carer” module proposes a service to automate the caregiving process reducing the caregiver’s burden and providing, at the same time, an alternative solution to the older adult when they are alone at home. Once the older adult’s behavioural pattern is inferred and a problem or mistake is detected in ADL performance, the “virtual carer” will provide the older adult with instant feedback for correcting or enhancing their ADL execution.
There are two type of assistance that “virtual carer” will provide. The “corrective” feedback will suggest actions which will correct deficiencies in ADL execution to older adults. On the other hand, the “assistive” feedback will provide the older adults with recommendations to promote and improve their ADL. The “virtual carer” will use a natural linguistic communication interface with the aim at not disturbing the older adult. Apart from assisting the older people in their ADL, the “virtual carer” will notify the informal caregivers about problems experienced by their older adults.
Based on the informal caregiver’s psychological state and the caregiver’s behavioural pattern in ADL performance, a selection of personalized informal e-Learning contents will be recommended to the carer in order to reduce their workload and improve the effectiveness of the provided care. Contents about psychological and assistance support techniques will be provided to help informal caregivers to address cognitive, functional, behavioural and personality changes, especially disorders, of their elderly relatives. Contents provided through video-based technologies will be adaptive and personalized depending on the assistance tasks that most heavily burden the informal caregiver. Other aspects such as other caregivers in his/her age group, learning preferences as well as the cognitive impairment degree of the older adult will be considered.
The application of e-Learning will offer intelligent management of contents by allowing informal caregivers to access these contents by means of a “push” provision depending on their preferences and needs. Free browsing through the library of available contents will be also possible. Moreover, an authoring tool will be provided to informal caregivers for creating and editing contents about the assistance tasks they perform.
Apart from e-Learning contents access, informal caregivers will be able to share contents created and edited by other caregivers through an informal learning network. The informal caregivers will be able to contact other users, sharing experiences and creating an informal carers community. This community will allow an increase in the active involvement of informal caregivers in their learning process. To supervise the access to contents and the participation of informal carers in the learning network, there will be a learning manager (a role performed mainly by a formal carer). Moreover, as a support service to the informal carers, the iCarer platform will offer a coordination and management service to allow carers to work collaboratively in their assistance tasks by sharing their agendas and coordinating with their older adult’s activities. A “case manager”, performed by an informal caregiver or a professional, will coordinate the assistance appointments or tasks with the older adult’s availability as well as other caregivers. Moreover, in the case of a problem occurred in providing care (negligence, bad behaviour, etc.) to the older adult by one of the informal carers, a report will be sent to inform the “case manager”.
The use of cloud computing as an underlying architecture technology to support the iCarer platform allows distribution of data management and processing load across the network. Services provided by the iCarer platform will be accessible from any device capable of connecting to the cloud. Cloud computing technology makes resource sharing between service providers easier, improving the collaboration between them. Cloud computing will be utilized to provide processing power and storage capacity for sensory data. On the cloud, specific behavioural patterns will be inferred from the data acquired by the sensors.
Moreover, the cloud will support the adaptive mechanisms that will process the inferred behavioural pattern in order to propose suitable guidance and orientation to end-users. Additionally, cloud computing will eliminate the need for informal caregivers to keep their hardware and applications constantly up to date. Finally, the cloud architecture must guarantee the confidentiality when handling sensitive user information.
The devices used to access the iCarer platform’s services will be TV, mobile devices (tablet and smartphones) and computers. The TV has a high use rate in older adult homes. In the case of the informal caregiver being the older adult’s spouse and hence another older adult, TV is less likely to be rejected than other devices such as PCs or mobile phones. The use of tablets is considered due to their intuitive interaction via customized graphical user interfaces, and simple web browsers. The rest of the informal caregivers will be able to access the iCarer platform by using the TV or mobile device, as well as the computer they might have in their homes. Any technological problems that could appear in the platform will be solved by the service provider by means of technical support. This function will be covered by offering technical skills professionals to the end-users, to respond to any issues.
iCarer provides AAL-based services supporting informal caregivers in their Activities of Daily Care. Family care is the most accepted and preferred care setting for both long-term care patients and their relatives. However, many of these caregivers are elderly people themselves, and often reach the point where they also need support. Care poses a substantial burden, so often it is not the health of the patient, but the overload of stress for the caregiver that results in the need for much more expensive professional care and even residential care.
iCarer will consist of several interoperable solutions providing a holistic cloud-based care support service. Additional services include a personalized support and training program based on e-Learning methods, assistance mechanisms for the caregiver, monitoring and assistance services for the person being cared, and care and case management services. These services combine in order to achieve an overall feeling of safety and a substantial stress reduction for the caregiver. Since iCarer provides a holistic solution, there are significant benefits compared to existing, isolated assistance services.
The diagram below illustrates the virtuous circle of benefits that will be derived from iCarer. These benefits apply to, for example: informal carers in terms of relief from the burden of providing care; employers of informal carers in terms of preservation of the work force; elderly care recipients who can continue to live independently; public services and insurers who can save costs; service providers in terms of customer retention.
iCarer combines monitoring services with situative information resources and e-Learning services, thus providing informal and formal carers with the information and knowledge necessary to make informed choices about their care activities. iCarer will also provide a connected care experience where carers are able to contact other carers and share resources and information about the care they should provide, the skills they need to do so and the best techniques to manage the stresses related with their caring responsibilities. iCarer extends existing lifestyle monitoring solutions by providing feedback about both carer and care recipient.
The iCarer project is based on a number of Work Packages (WP) as follows.
WP1 will manage the work done by the partners, ensuring the timely execution of work and its quality controls, provisions and resources management.
WP2 will set the design of the different components of the platform that have to fulfil actual needs and real life conditions of the informal carers.
WP3 and WP4 will develop the hardware and software needed to provide the care support services.
These modules will be integrated in WP5, testing the final system for reliability, robustness and security (technical validation). A final prototype will be used in the field trials.
WP6 will coordinate the real-life trials and the analysis of the results achieved in terms of impact, user acceptance and feasibility.
Dissemination and exploitation of the results achieved will also be an important issue during the project’s life and will be coordinated in WP7. This will create public awareness and scientific interest in the project, and develop the exploitation agreements in view of the introduction of these results into the market.