Smartwatch study looks at patient and carer health links

By Leila Hawkins
The research involves a wearable device by Tracmo to monitor activity...

IoT service provider Tracmo has partnered with the University of California Berkeley to carry out a study into the relationship between the health of a patient and their familial or spousal carer. 

The university has recruited 300 patients and their caregivers who will wear a smartwatch - Tracmo's CareActive Watch - continuously for six months. Caregivers will be monitored periodically for their mental and physical health changes.

Recent research by the university's Dr. Robert Levenson and Dr. Kuan-Hua Chen found that couples with higher relationship satisfaction showed similarities in their physiological responses , such as heart rate and skin conditions. The academics believe this suggests a greater “biological connection” between the couples. 

In addition, there is emerging evidence that this connection to a partner’s physiological response may have important implications for the carers' mental and physical health. Findings from Dr. Levenson and Dr. Chen’s group suggested that this linkage can predict their mental and physical health. This applied to both healthy married couples and couples in which one person is the spousal carer of the other who is diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia. 

In another recent study, Dr. Levenson and Dr. Chen had 22 patients and their spousal caregivers wear a wrist-mounted monitor in their homes for seven days. They found that the more synchronised the patient’s and the caregiver’s activity was, the less anxiety the caregiver reported experiencing.

In all these studies data was collected around the same time, therefore the researchers could not know whether greater symcronicity produced better relationship and health outcomes. In addition, research participants were mostly living in the San Francisco and Northern California areas, so the researchers couldn't establish whether the effects could apply to couples living in other, more rural areas parts of the US. 

The current study will enable researchers to collect daily, real-time data with the least amount of interference possible. The goal is to establish models that can predict behaviour changes and give early warnings of potential risks to the mental health for caregivers. 

The researchers explain they selected Tracmo’s CareActive Watch because it is easier to use than other wearable devices they tried. “We selected the Tracmo CareActive Watch because of its long battery life, ability to provide near continuous monitoring of wearers’ movement and relative position in the home, and ready access to data uploaded to the cloud” Dr. Chen said. 

“In our view, the CareActive Watch provided the optimal feature set for our needs and the company’s technical support was exemplary.” 

Dr Levenson added: “The Tracmo CareActive Watch’s user-friendly app allowed our sample of elderly research participants to complete self-installation with minimum frustration.” 

“By having people with dementia and their familial caregivers both wear CareActive Watches, we are able to monitor and analyse changes in movement and in-home location during individual activities and social interactions. This data is useful in helping us predict changes in the health and wellbeing of participants in our research studies.”

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