As humans, we are inherently bad at signaling our stress in time. In fact, there is no single signal from our bodies that indicates stress. In some cases, stress is even desirable or natural, for example in an exciting situation, such as a high-risk sport or an important presentation. That, according to Petra Heck, researcher at Fontys ICT, affiliated with the AI & Big Data lectorate, is where the challenge lies: "What we're trying to do is signal unwanted or problematic stress based on the data with advanced AI algorithms. In addition, students are also working on the data platform in which this information is unlocked, which in itself is quite a challenge."
In addition to the technical side, the project is also running two case studies. These will test whether stress detection adds value in two specific patient groups. These involve people with dementia, a group in which misunderstood behavior is often seen. Stress detection can provide better care and understanding. The second case study involves patients with Persistent Physical Complaints (ALK). Here, stress and relaxation detection can make the difference in better management of one's physical condition through preventive action. Researcher Manon Peeters-Schaap, affiliated with Fontys Paramedische Hogeschool, explains: "Physiotherapists will test prototypes of wearables in practice. This will initially be done with healthy test subjects in controlled environments, and in the second instance with clients under the guidance of a physical therapist."
More than IT
The project is a collaboration between several Fontys institutes, external technology partners, healthcare institutions and a consortium healthcare organization. This interdisciplinary cooperation is especially needed in healthcare practice, explains Manon Peeters-Schaap: "The challenge is to still create a situation of stress or relaxation in a safe environment. To do this, we need to work closely with healthcare institutions and the subjects, but also with partners who can provide the technology to monitor effectively. We will use technology, such as VR, to create the experience stress or relaxation, but also think about breathing exercises."
Ethics and technology
This project has a third component besides technology and healthcare practice, and that is the ethical or legal side. Current privacy and liability laws are very strict, even when it comes to biomedical data, but also leave a lot of ambiguity about what can and cannot be done. For this reason, the Fontys-Avans Legal College is also involved in the project, Heck explains: "The technology is basically there, it's just a matter of finding the right AI applications to bring out insights. The question therein is how to do that in an ethically responsible way that also fits within the legal framework of, for example, privacy legislation. We hope to find answers to that too in this project, so that the use of wearables as care-supporting technology will be a big step closer."
The project is made possible by RAAK-mkb funding and is led by researcher Dr. Manon Peeters-Schaap of Fontys Paramedische Hogeschool. The project is affiliated with the Lectureship AI & Big Data and the Knowledge Center Applied AI for Society.