Researchers from the University of Waterloo in the U.K. have developed a radar system capable of wirelessly monitoring patient vital signs without attaching patients to machines via troublesome wires.

Encased in a device smaller than the size of a standard cell phone, the system records patient breathing and heart rates with help from sensitive radar waves. Those waves are analyzed by embedded algorithms in an onboard digital signal processing unit.

The system was originally created to track patients with sleep apnea by measuring their subtle chest movements in lieu of hooking the patients up to lab equipment via obtrusive wires. During testing, the radar was fixed to a ceiling above a bed in a model long-term care apartment where more than 50 volunteers alternated sleeping. The system gathered and analyzed data from the radar waves that reflected to the unit from the patients’ bodies. According to the results, the system was 90% as accurate as traditional hard-wired equipment.

According to George Shaker, engineering professor at Waterloo, the system has the potential to monitor patients in the home instead of a lab or clinic. Using the wireless technology, subjects can sleep virtually unobstructed in just about any position for up to eight hours at a time, according to the researchers.

"With traditional systems involving wires and appointments booked weeks in advance, you can't sleep as you normally do in your own bed at home, making the common sleep study an unpleasant experience," said Shaker.

Researchers are exploring other applications for the system including fall monitoring for long-term care facility residents or for routine heart rate and breathing rate monitoring of hospital patients. Researchers also see the potential for using the technology to monitor conditions such as restless leg syndrome, seizures or periodic limb movement disorder.

The research appears in the journal IEEE Access.

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