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New study shows technology could play an important role in mental health support

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By Celine Zadorsky

In a study published in MDPI Journal, a team of researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute have shown that the use of technology may assist in better outcomes for those living with both mental health and physical disorders.

Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, Assistant Scientific Director at Lawson, and her team embarked on a pilot study that used smart home monitoring solutions to assist those living with both a mental health disorder and other health challenges. The purpose of this pilot study was to see if technology could improve overall lifestyle and wellbeing.

“We began our research by using hospital prototype apartments – apartment style care spaces within hospital settings – that were equipped with smart home technology solutions such as a screen device, activity trackers, weigh scales and medication dispensers,” says Dr. Forchuk who is also the Beryl and Richard Ivey Research Chair in Aging, Mental Health, Rehabilitation and Recovery at St. Joseph’s Health care London. “Once we tested it in a hospital setting, we wanted to find a way to take this idea out into the community in different kinds of housing and living situations to see if it would be beneficial.”

Medication dispenser.

The research team partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the London and Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) to work together to retrofit the homes of the 13 study participants.

“We worked together with the participants and their care providers to choose what combination of  technology they felt would be best for them,” says Dr. Forchuk. “No matter their health condition each participant wanted to be more active and independent, with the goal of staying out of hospital.”

All smart devices were connected to the Lawson Integrated Database, which is a database that can securely collect data from multiple sources such as health devices. This allowed care providers to send reminders to participants, while also tracking usage and results.

“The key benefits we noted was that study participants started to live healthier lives,” says Jonathan Serrato, Lawson Research Associate. “Participants logged going for walks and exercising more often, as well as making healthier food choices. Those who used the medication dispensers did not miss a single dose. The touch screen devices also allowed participants to easily communicate with care providers and support networks, and access more resources.”

Following the pilot study, the research team also published a subsequent paper, as a ‘how-to guide’ for utilizing smart home technology interventions as a health care tool.

“This paper is a helpful resource that outlines implications and considerations when it comes to smart home technologies,” adds Serrato. “There are many areas we touch upon such as security, privacy and feasibility as well as hardware and software information for those who would like to take on their own similar type of smart home technology project.”

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit www.lawsonresearch.ca.

Celine Zadorsky is a Communications Consultant at Lawson Health Research Institute


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