Putting technology to work to help the elderly and people with restricted mobility – Mounir Mokhtari, IMT

By mobilizing its research teams looking for technological solutions to boost autonomy, and supporting the principle of care in the home, IMT is committed to promoting the role of technology in healthcare. The longstanding involvement of Mounir Mokhtari, researcher and incumbent of the Chair for “Quality Of Life Of Ageing People”, is an example of this commitment.

Seeking a viable economic model

Mounir Mokhtari is unequivocal: “It is beyond all doubt that a national, or even European, plan of action on healthcare and patient autonomy will soon be put in place. Our role is to ensure that the right solutions are found.” These solutions are already in existence, all that remains is to find a way of funding them. “We have already tested these technologies in pilot schemes, in real-life situations, and measured their subsequent impact; it’s now time for us to move things up a gear. What’s missing? A viable economic model!

But to take the plunge and invest further in innovative solutions, industrial partners need more concrete reassurances. Which is why the Chair for Quality Of Life of Ageing People was created in 2011. The plan is to roll out technological solutions developed by Télécom SudParis, the Handicom lab, and in Singapore by the IPAL partners (cf. insert) on a larger scale, making these solutions available to hundreds of families. The guiding principle of this initiative is the belief that patients should be treated at home for as long as possible so as to maintain their quality of life. Because the health of elderly patients has been shown to decline rapidly once they enter specialized care units, and because demographic pressures mean that we need to find new solutions right away, the latest concept to emerge is that of a “virtual retirement home”.

A home equipped with intelligent technology

What researchers are proposing is to combine human contact and technological innovation in an intelligent living environment. Ubiquitous and pervasive computing technology now allows us to integrate lightweight, portable systems into patients’ lived environment. With the help of technology such as Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee, 3G, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC (Near Field Communication), sensors, radios, cameras, smart phones and other devices can all be connected via a single network. These diverse tools can communicate using compatible transfer technology installed on all devices, linked by microservers spread throughout the patient’s home. Most importantly, thanks to algorithms designed to take account of the patient’s profile and immediate surroundings, and analyzing data using a very rapid web-style framework, care decisions can be taken in real time. A wealth of specialist expertise has gone into creating this powerful, flexible software tool: “We established a platform which makes use of existing technologies and allows them to work together. It’s now up to our industrial partners to use this middleware as a basis for developing the necessary applications,” observes Prof. Mokhtari.

Uniting two very different worlds

These results are the fruit of many years’ research, with every link in the chain studied in detail. The first step was to focus on the end users, understanding and modeling their needs. Next, research focused on the interactions between man and machine, and the capacity of the interface to adapt to the needs it has identified in individual users.

The third step was to work on context awareness and the ability to identify the correct services for a patient, with the end result being the presentation of the service to the user, i.e. translating the physical environment into an abstract technological environment, creating a semantic representation of the real-life situation.

Since the primary objective of such systems will always be to ensure a good system-human interface, great emphasis was placed on this interaction between two very different worlds: the world of technology and the world of human healthcare.

As Mounir Mokhtari observes, “In many ways, what we are dealing with here is a meeting and fusion of different worlds. Care-givers and technological tools. Underlying technology and new applications. Engineers and healthcare professionals. Clients and manufacturers.

This capacity to forge new bonds is not a fortuitous accident, but rather the successful result of a carefully-planned recruitment policy. This recruitment program brought in specialized engineers from various fields, but also occupational therapists whose direct experience of working with patients was invaluable. To help bring these two sides together, the project recruited ergonomics experts with advanced technical and computing skills. This allowed Professor Mokhtari’s teams to gain a comprehensive understanding of patients’ needs and the value added by technology, making IMT a recognized authority consulted by the government on all policy initiatives relating to elderly patients and autonomy.

The Chair for Quality of Life of Ageing People, a trialed intelligent technology platform

Created in 2011 by IMT and the Fondation Mines-Télécom, the purpose of this new Chair is to promote the concept of intelligent technology platforms on a large scale. The key focus here is healthcare for elderly patients with cognitive deficiencies. With over 40% of the population over the age of 80 suffering from cognitive disorders, the need for a new solution is more urgent than ever before. Several hundred families are involved with this project, all providing care for an elderly relative who would normally have been placed in a home but who, for the purposes of this experiment, will remain at home for as long as possible. Mounir Mokhtari’s greatest hope is that his ‘clients’, i.e. the patients and their carers, will be won over by these new technological solutions: “That would allow our industrial partners to make these solutions a key part of their product ranges.” Companies such as La Mutuelle Générale are partners in this project. To allow the scheme to develop further the researchers hope to attract new partners, particularly insurers. Interested parties should not hesitate to get in touch!

From Evry to Singapore : Following a Master’s degree in ‘robotics for disabilities’ and a doctoral thesis produced in partnership with INSERM (the National Institute for Healthcare and Medical Research) and UPMC (Université Pierre & Marie Curie), Mounir Mokhtari joined the Telecommunication Networks and Services Department at Télécom SudParis in 1998 as a lecturer and researcher. A year later he was appointed director of the new Handicom laboratory, devoted to improving quality of life for people with restricted mobility through technological innovation. Since 2009, Mounir Mokhtari has also been conducting research projects in partnership with IPAL (the Image and Pervasive Access Lab), a Franco-Singaporean research grouping with input from the CNRS, IMT and the National University of Singapore. As Dr. Mokhtari explains: “People have the same needs all over the word, which is why international collaborations are so important to us. Singapore is the gateway to Asia, a key strategic player whose government has invested in new information and communication technologies for a long time, and where technology now drives the economy.” He now divides his time between Europe and Asia, and in 2012 he took up yet another new challenge when he joined forces with the research teams of ICT & Healthcare Montpellier, a joint initiative launched in 2010 by IMT and the Universities of Montpellier.