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


By Lawson Institute Communications

A team of researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute have shown that technology may assist in better outcomes for those living with both mental health and physical disorders.

Cheryl Forchuk, RN, PhD, assistant scientific director at Lawson and professor in psychiatry at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, 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 the pilot study was to see if technology could improve overall lifestyle and wellbeing. The results, co-authored by Daniel Lizotte, department of epidemiology & biostatistics at Schulich Medicine, were published in MDPI Journal.
“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,” said 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.”

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,” said 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,” said 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,” added 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.”