A Smart-Home System to Unobtrusively and Continuously Assess Loneliness in Older Adults

IEEE J Transl Eng Health Med. 2016 Jun 10:4:2800311. doi: 10.1109/JTEHM.2016.2579638. eCollection 2016.


Loneliness is a common condition in older adults and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, decreased sleep quality, and increased risk of cognitive decline. Assessing loneliness in older adults is challenging due to the negative desirability biases associated with being lonely. Thus, it is necessary to develop more objective techniques to assess loneliness in older adults. In this paper, we describe a system to measure loneliness by assessing in-home behavior using wireless motion and contact sensors, phone monitors, and computer software as well as algorithms developed to assess key behaviors of interest. We then present results showing the accuracy of the system in detecting loneliness in a longitudinal study of 16 older adults who agreed to have the sensor platform installed in their own homes for up to 8 months. We show that loneliness is significantly associated with both time out-of-home ([Formula: see text] and [Formula: see text]) and number of computer sessions ([Formula: see text] and [Formula: see text]). [Formula: see text] for the model was 0.35. We also show the model's ability to predict out-of-sample loneliness, demonstrating that the correlation between true loneliness and predicted out-of-sample loneliness is 0.48. When compared with the University of California at Los Angeles loneliness score, the normalized mean absolute error of the predicted loneliness scores was 0.81 and the normalized root mean squared error was 0.91. These results represent first steps toward an unobtrusive, objective method for the prediction of loneliness among older adults, and mark the first time multiple objective behavioral measures that have been related to this key health outcome.

Keywords: In-home monitoring; ambient assessment; loneliness; longitudinal models; older adults.