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The Digital Caregiver's Nervous System

Wednesday January 30, 2019

 

My last blog post introduced digital assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home for caregivers. All of the devices mentioned in that post require a connection to the Internet. While an Internet provider (Comcast, CenturyLink, and others) does the heavy lifting of bringing the Internet to your front door, there still is that last few feet between your device and Internet connectivity. As I mentioned in my previous post, I warn about upcoming techno-jargon, and this post will have some out of necessity!

The remaining distance is bridged by the cable modem and a wireless router. Remember telephone switchboards? That is the job routers perform, only a lot faster than a human switchboard operator!

The cable modem is the gateway to the Internet and is connected to the wireless router. In some cases, the cable modem and wireless router are built into one unit, but performance and flexibility are usually better with separate units. The wireless router provides a wireless network (also known as WiFi) to connect devices in your house to the Internet bridging the final few feet to your devices. Information requested by your Echo, iPad, or home computer is directed to the device by the router.

There is one major problem with a single router, no matter how well the unit performs there will be blank areas in wireless coverage. A new kind of network design, the wireless mesh network solves this problem.

The mesh network is composed of three or more routers with overlapping wireless network coverage. This type of wireless network is ideal for healthcare and caregiving uses. It is also easy to configure and ready to go out of the box. Just connect one router to your Internet provider's cable modem. The router connected to the Internet will configure the remaining units in the mesh network. Networks can be difficult to understand, so if it becomes intimidating don’t hesitate to call the “Geek Squad” or your younger cousin who works in corporate networking!

With a robust wireless network established, now a world of devices and apps are available to assist a person with Parkinson's. For example, many of the Parkinson's gait studies use cell phone motion sensors to detect gait and sleep irregularities. This data is collected 24/7 and would swamp a regular cell phone data connection, so these apps wait for a link to a WiFi network to send their data to the researcher's location.

Recently, Apple's newest Apple Watch Series 4 added heart rate monitoring, it is most effective with a WiFi network. This year's Consumer Electronics Show (known as CES) showed a plethora of new cloud-connected health tools all relying on a stable wireless network connection. These tools and the Internet will hopefully promise another option for Parkinson's patients who have difficulty seeing a specialist either because of location or mobility problems.

Telemedicine is the option, the ability to at least perform a basic diagnosis via a webcam session and remote medical scanning. Telemedicine is still in its infancy but holds great promise for increasing access to our limited pool of Movement Disorder Specialist doctors.

The next post returns the focus to digital assistants with the Amazon Echo (also known as "Alexa") family as the first topic. The Echo is the oldest of the voice-activated digital assistants, but that doesn't mean that Amazon is taking it easy. Already "Alexa" (the Echo's default activation name) is showing up in applications ranging from automotive, home control, and home health care. Both Amazon and Google have the goal of making centralized information and control hubs for the connected home.

In closing, consider this scenario, a person with Parkinson's (PWP) suffers a fall that renders them unconscious. That person is wearing a watch with a fall sensor -- many watches already have this feature. The watch sends a fall alert to a cloud database monitored by an Alexa skill (a small piece of software). The skill triggers the Amazon Echoes in the home to tell anyone in the house the person with Parkinson's has fallen. It can also send a telephone call or text message to the primary caregiver. This sounds like science fiction but, with a little setup, can happen now or in the very near future.

- Bill Clugtson, NW Parkinson's Tech-Savvy Community Member

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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