Case: Kustaankartano – Artificial intelligence improves quality of life

The machine vision application monitors the outdoor activities of elderly patients and makes alarms when needed. Automated monitoring frees up working time for more important tasks and increases outdoor safety. The application is in pilot testing at the Helsinki City Service Center  Kustaankartano.

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konenäkösovellus vanhusten hoidossa

Kustaankartano is a versatile service center for elderly or unemployed citizens in Oulunkylä, Helsinki. Customers can for example take part in exercise classes, craft clubs or participate in support groups at the service center. Kustaankartano is a common meeting place as well as a home for many elderly people. In addition, several elderly people living nearby visit Kustaankartano on a regular basis.

An open-minded experiment culture

At Kustaankartano, the latest technology is tested without prejudice. A pilot project called Kustis goes Digi is the center’s currently ongoing pilot project which aims  to free up caregivers’ time for care work by introducing digital, robotological and artificial intelligence aids in service housing for the elderly. In addition, Kustaankartano serves as a service platform in the 6Aika CoHeWe project (Co-Created Health and Wellbeing), which together with technology companies´seeks innovative solutions to prevent diseases and promote well-being.

The project, which started in 2019, has already tested and is currently testing several new technologies such as smart floor, social robot, pattern recognition, sensory room, smart light, and an interactive seal robot. Experimental technologies improve patients’ quality of life and free up employees’ time for nursing tasks.

Studies of technology adoption in the care sector have found that technology adoption often increases time pressures and even overcompensates for human interaction. At Kustaankartano, however, the experiments have been accepted well. The staff, customers and relatives are fully involved in the experiments, and Kustaankartano has redeemed its position as a pioneer in the introduction of care technologies.

Care sector challenges in Finland

The care sector suffers from labor shortage. There is a shortage of both nurses and caregivers. And the situation is not easing on its own in the near future. The average age of those working in the care sector is high and more than 18,000 of the nurses alone will retire in the next few years. The shortage of nurses is exacerbated by new regulations and the aging of the population.

In early 2019, serious problems were revealed in the round-the-clock care of the elderly. High amount of work and the low number of nursing staff were part of the reasons for the shortcomings observed in primary care. In activities focused on achieving performance goals, the most important thing, i.e. the well-being of the person being cared for, has been forgotten. A solution to this problem is being sought by increasing the number of staff. However, simply increasing the number of caregivers is not a guarantee of high quality care. In addition, other means are needed, one of which is the use of technology.

In the City of Helsinki, each service unit has a self-monitoring plan, which aims to ensure the quality of the service provided. In addition to quality, self-monitoring affects occupational safety and well-being. The City of Helsinki has succeeded in providing a reasonably high quality service. According to a customer satisfaction survey conducted in 2019 to customers and relatives, the overall quality of the service is at a good level. Of course, there is still room for improvement. The worst grade is given for one’s possibility to influence the course of the day.

The aim is to improve the quality of life of the elderly

In the memory disorder unit of Kustaankartano, the outdoor activities of the residents can participate to outdoor activities only with caregivers. Physical fitness of people with memory disorder is mainly good and more activity would be beneficial than can be provided at the moment. The City of Helsinki was looking for a technical solution to this challenge to be piloted. A solution based on Empirica’s pattern recognition was chosen for testing.

The project was launched in the spring of 2020. The aim was to test how pattern recognition and smart cameras can enable patients to engage in outdoor activities on their own. In Kustaankartano, the outdoor area is partially fenced, but nevertheless there is always a risk of leaving the yard area. The machine vision application developed by Empirica aims to reduce risks and facilitate control of outdoor activities.

Outdoor activities without the assistance of caregivers aim to increase the ability of patients to influence their own outdoor activities, to increase outdoor leisure time and to improve safety and thus improve their quality of life. At the same time, nursing staff gets more time for nursing work.

The development of machine vision application

The purpose of the development work was to test the solution and algorithms developed for Empirica’s pattern recognition solution and to teach them to identify possible falls or leaves from the area. If the system detects falls it alerts staff. In addition, the application keeps a record of the time spent outdoors, when, for example, in severe frost or heat, residents can be directed indoors after a short outdoor activity.

The application also saves the boundaries of the outdoor area and monitors that they are not exceeded. Should any of the residents decide to leave the area, an immediate alert will be made to the staff. Thus the application improves outdoor safety.

Challenges in the project were caused in particular by the monitoring of several simultaneous objects from one camera to another, as well as the monitoring of several simultaneous video images with sufficient accuracy, but still effectively. To cover the whole area, several cameras were needed, and trees and other obstacles created more challenges for the placement of the cameras.

“”Tracking people is tricky as people move behind obstacles or from one camera to another, and most of the work was practically related to that. Individual image detection is definitely a completely different thing than tracking individuals so that their identities are not confused. Machine learning is the best solution for managing this kind of complex situations.”

– Elias Yarrkov, Data scientist, Empirica Finland Oy

In addition to monitoring the yard area, access to the yard is controlled by smart locks so that residents can move in and out of locked doors without the help of the staff. This allows residents to go in and out freely outside the agreed outdoor hours.

Artificial intelligence improves quality of life

Although elderly people are often unfamiliar with technology and are skeptical about it, residents in Kustaankartano have been looking forward to new experiments. Some of the solutions are more aimed at staff, but solutions aimed at residents and relatives have also been tested. In digital solutions for the elderly, it is therefore particularly important to take usability into account, as the older generation has significantly less experience using digital devices than the younger generations.

At its best, a digital solution can help a person cope with their daily chores independently for longer and thus improve their quality of life. In Kustaankartano’s experiments, companies receive valuable feedback on their solutions directly from users, which ensures that the further development of services will be successful.

A meaningful life for older people

Kustaankartano serves as an important experimental platform for services utilizing new technologies. While companies get to test the functionality of their solutions in a real environment, nursing staff get to know the opportunities brought by new technologies. The main goal of digital solutions is to streamline everyday operations, increase safety and free up caregivers’ time for nursing and care for residents. Technology supports the goal towards meaningful old age.

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