A monitoring system for dementia care units is in the works at the University of Manitoba that uses cameras without breaching a patient’s privacy.

The network uses cameras not for their video — but to map data points on the human body that together look like a stick figure.

“Currently we don’t have any system to monitor dangerous events such as falling, using a knife, using scissors, throwing a chair,” said Amine Choukou, assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at the U of M.

The system was Choukou’s idea and once the initial programming is done, he said it will be piloted at Riverview Health Centre’s new Alzheimer’s Centre of Excellence. Choukou says the new centre is designed for residents to have more freedom to move about during the day, so the monitoring system will help keep an eye out for dangers in common areas.

“In the future we will feed that deep learning using real life events that will occur with real patients from Riverview Health Centre,” said Choukou.

A team of students is programming the initial code for the network over the summer. They are logging actions like falling, tripping or punching for the cameras to remember.

“So the camera is taking information about the human body and we are taking information about the human body without knowing the persons,” said Choukou.

Electrical engineering student Ryan East’s job is to program the cameras to also recognize potentially hazardous objects in the space.

“If it sees a knife it’ll notify somebody that there is a knife in the frame when there shouldn’t be,” he said.

When a hazardous movement or object is recognized, a notification will be sent to staff’s smart phones via text.

East said the work is rewarding for him because he has had a family member at Riverview and he has also volunteered at a long-term care unit.

“And that’s something that they always tell you to watch out for is elderly residents falling, can be very dangerous so being able to detect that is a very good thing,” he said.

The pilot project will happen this winter. The Riverview Alzheimer’s Centre of Excellence is expected to open in September.