Researchers across a number of UK universities have developed a touchscreen computer system to help tackle the growing yet relatively unknown problem of malnutrition in older adults, and particularly those that live alone. The system combines specially-developed easy-to-use touchscreen software with the remote monitoring made possible by a simple webcam.
Though obesity is probably the most visible nutritional health issue facing developed nations, malnutrition in older people is also a considerable concern. A 2010 study at Louisiana State University using 2006 data from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) found that between 2,000 and 3,000 older adults die due to malnutrition each year. The research found that deaths correlated with those with socioeconomic or physical disadvantages, and those that live alone. The United States is by no means a special case when it comes to the issue.
Now, after three years in development, a computer system has emerged which addresses the first problem in tackling malnutrition among older people: identifying it. The system, called NANA (for Novel Assessment of Nutrition and Ageing) has been designed "for measuring diet, cognition, mood, and physical function," and it does so in a remarkably straightforward way.
Users select food items from a visual interface on the computer, recording everything they eat, including snacks. They then take before and after pictures of their meals using a webcam. The information is then sent off to a nutritionist who can ascertain a person's dietary intake.
"Alongside diet we are also assessing cognitive function, physical activity/function and mood," Dr. Liz Williams, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield told Gizmag. "The idea being that we can look at the inter-relationships between these factors i.e. taking a holistic view of an individual."
Though researchers approached the project with a view to developing both hardware and software, the focus quickly shifted to the latter. "We found that most of the things we have needed thus far can be off the shelf," Williams added. "We trialled the study using off the shelf Eee Top computers to which we attached a web-cam for photographing the food and a digital grip strength device for assessing grip strength (an index of physical frailty)." The prototype pictured above runs on a Dell Inspiron One.
Williams suggests that the system could very well be ported to the smartphone, but observes that many of the 400 older adults who assisted with the trials appreciated both the size and robustness of a desktop touchscreen PC. Williams said that, though apps exist for assessing dietary intake, "none have been designed specifically for and with older adults."
Source: University of Sheffield