Researchers in Spain have developed an innovative new "smart home" system that could allow seniors to live on their own for longer. The network of sensors detects changes in the behavior of the home's occupants and can signal potential signs of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's.

Tecnalia, an applied research center located in Spain, spent three years developing this smart home, which consists of a vast network of sensors found in each room. In addition to detecting the presence of its occupants and their time spent standing, sitting or lying down, the system tracks the opening and closing of doors, drawers and windows and the turning on and off of the lights, household appliances and the TV.

Designed primarily for use in the homes of seniors, the system is capable of alerting a caregiver or loved one when abnormal behaviors are detected. If the resident becomes more sedentary over a prolonged period, begins carrying out certain household tasks repeatedly, or shows a significant change in sleeping patterns, a notification may be sent.

All of these symptoms are highly likely to go unnoticed, particularly if the person in question lives alone. But they could all point to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. While there is no known cure for the disorder, early detection of cognitive degeneration is thought to be beneficial as it gives patients time to plan for the future and discuss treatment options.

Initially, the smart home prototype by Tecnalia will be installed in retirement homes and other apartments designed for seniors.

In the midst of the current "senior boom," several companies are focusing on technologies that will provide better quality of life for seniors, particularly by allowing them to maintain their independence. Tecnalia notes that according to the Spanish Institute for the Elderly and Social Services (IMERSO), 70% of individuals over 70 would prefer to live in their own homes rather than in a retirement home.