‘Intelligent beds’ and sensor tech arrives in aged care facilities

Sleeptite chief executive Cameron van den Dungen always had a dream to innovate the aged care sector and set out to fuel the ‘connected bedroom’ movement by making beds smart.

Today, Victoria-based Sleeptite – named a finalist in the InnovationAus 2022 Awards for Excellence in the Digital Health and Health Tech category – is making inroads in the aged care sector. It created REMi, a ‘nearable’ sensor technology that can continuously monitor ‘presence, position, and posture’ of an aged care resident in bed overnight.

The beauty of the technology, according to Mr van den Dungen, is that it relays information in real-time to a dashboard, providing direct early indicators of distress, discomfort or potential accident.

This ensures care can be prioritised to residents where needed, while allowing others to receive uninterrupted sleep. Perfect for the aged care setting, REMi calibrates to the individual’s profile to register an alarm if pressure or position thresholds are exceeded, enabling timely and appropriate response from carers.

Sleeptite sensor tech

The inventiveness comes in part from the ability to “play with inks on fabrics and materials” and send back signals from data collected. “It’s a low-cost scalable and manufacturing system of data extraction via conductive inks imprinted or embedded into fabrics.”

Technology like this in high-demand, Mr van den Dungen says, considering the current global standard for monitoring aged care residents through the course of a night is a simple ‘door check’ conducted by carers on their rounds.

“There’s a lack of technology to non-invasively monitor the wellbeing of the elderly, at home or in a facility, through the course of each night. This is a global problem and one that very few companies are actively working to solve. Importantly, being nearable, REMi has virtually no cultural barriers to overcome.”

What’s more, he said many of the technologies designed for aged care fall or pressure sore monitoring are developed as wearables or utilise infrared/thermal cameras and/or microphones.

“Each of these are quite invasive in nature and require the person being monitored to remember to interact with the technology. REMi doesn’t require the individual to change any of their bedtime or sleep routines to be effective.”

It’s this creative and novel approach that enabled the company – alongside partners RMIT University and Sleepeezee Bedding Australia – to receive a $1.7million Cooperative Research Centre Project Grant to develop the non-invasive aged care resident night-time monitoring and alert system.

“REMi wouldn’t exist without the platform of research breakthroughs developed by the RMIT team,” Mr van den Dungen said.

“Their pioneering research enabled the creation of sensors embedded in soft materials rendering them conformal for varied applications.”

In October 2021, Sleeptite also received co-investment funding via the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) Commercialisation Fund to support its efforts in taking REMi to market.

The immediate focus of the company is the commercialisation of REMi for use in both residential aged care and aging in place settings by mid-2023.

“A field trial program has commenced with one of Australia’s largest private aged-care providers; conducting durability testing, user experience and interface development, with a view to begin implementation of machine learning processes to deliver ‘falls’ and ‘pressure wound’ prediction models,” he noted.

Improving ‘health and wellbeing’ across other sectors

For van den Dungen, the idea of the ‘connected bedroom’ is crucial for aged care, but also makes sense in other arenas.

That’s why the company is creating products for the connected bedroom of the future, whether that be in a home, hospital, prison, barracks or boarding schools.

Going global is yet another aspiration, Mr van den Dungen said, explaining there’s sizeable interest in New Zealand and Hong Kong.

“REMi was developed with a global market in mind. Novel low-cost soft sensors integrated on mattress protectors allow for large scale production for local and international distribution. As such, Sleeptite has been cultivating relationships with international markets since 2019.”

Building on a family legacy
Asked about his passion for transforming the aged care sector, Mr van den Dungen said the inspiration runs in his blood – a reason why he wants to continue the family legacy of transforming lives of older Australians.

“When my Oma came to Australia, with my father and his siblings, she opened up private aged care homes in Toorak, South Yarra, and St Kilda through the 1960s and 1970s – so there’s a history in the aged care sector in my family.

“My father actually grew up in those private homes so he has lots of stories of being a kid living and working in a private aged care home.

“Fast forward to the 1980s, and my father ended up in the bedding industry and joined a group, which he became a founding member of called Forty Winks, which is one of Australia’s biggest mattress and bedroom furniture retailers.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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