Wearable devices aid hospital recovery

Sheila Zabeu -

August 25, 2023

It is believed that a sedentary lifestyle during periods of hospitalization can be very harmful to patients, and can lead to functional decline, frailty and lack of autonomy to carry out everyday tasks. In addition, observational studies have shown that light physical activity during hospitalization can reduce the length of stay and the need to be readmitted in a short period. Therefore, interventions using wearable devices that track physical activity of hospitalized patients, for example, can be of great help.

An article recently published in the Journal JAMA Network Open of the American Medical Association revealed that interventions using wearable devices that track physical activity are becoming more common in hospitalizations because they stimulate change through self-monitoring, goal setting and feedback.

The systematic review and meta-analysis of data collected from studies carried out in Australia, Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East considered groups including patients recovering from surgery and CVA (stroke), orthopedic and mixed rehabilitation, the majority of whom used wearable tracking devices in multicomponent interventions only during hospitalization. Some groups also used them post-discharge, with a duration ranging from one to six months.

The results of the research suggest that interventions using wearable tracking devices are associated with more physical activity and less sedentary lifestyles during hospitalization, with potential clinical benefits for patients. However, modest improvements in physical function were recorded and no improvements in pain or mental health were observed. There was also no significant association with length of stay or readmission. The researchers warn that, due to the significant heterogeneity of the data used in the study, caution is advised when interpreting the results. They also point out that interventions using wearable tracking devices are a growing area of research and that 80% of the studies covered were published in 2018 or later.

Outside the hospital environment

Wearable devices and apps are also helping to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the progressive degeneration of motor neurons located in the brain and spinal cord. This is what researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the ALS Therapy Development Institute reported in a study published in Nature Communications.

As the research shows, the treatment of this disease depends heavily on functional assessment. However, limitations in traditional methods of measuring functional parameters, even outside the scope of ALS, make it difficult to understand whether ongoing treatment interventions are working. Carrying out more frequent sampling comes up against obstacles of resources, logistics and costs. So why not use sensors and mobile applications to remotely quantify the progression of the disease, collecting active data not only through interviews, but also through devices?

During the study, forty adult outpatients with ALS were followed up for six months. An app was used to carry out the functional assessment interviews every two to four weeks – all done in the patients’ homes, reducing the number of visits to clinical centers and allowing home monitoring of the progression of the disease. In addition, each participant in the study continuously wore an activity monitor on their wrist or ankle. The hope is that by collecting digital data actively and passively, it will be possible to develop new measures based on these results.

The study performed data-centric analysis of the triaxial accelerometer that monitored sensor-based sub-movements at the wrist and ankle of individuals with ALS at home during everyday behaviors. These measurements are a robust indication of motor function and disease progression. Machine learning resources were used to train a model that is sensitive to changes in the disease.

According to the researchers, few studies have ever monitored ALS sufferers continuously using wearable devices. They point out that this new form of measurement represents a great opportunity to reduce the cost of ALS clinical trials, increase the population of individuals who can take part in the tests and speed up the evaluation of new therapies. It could also support routine clinical care for ALS sufferers, giving doctors and patients an objective and reliable motor assessment method that can be carried out at home for relatively low costs.