We now have smartwatches with fall detection and GPS, fitness trackers that also monitor vitals, phones that check blood sugar levels, and apps that report symptoms back to the patient’s care team. Technology has come a long way in improving monitoring in elder health care over recent years. That list is about to get a big boost in the form of smart toilet seats that can track your loved one’s health passively, without requiring them to wear any kind of device.
There’s a big benefit to this, said David Borkholder, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who’s part of a team that developed the framework for a cardiovascular-based smart toilet seat.
“When you think about aging in place, we’ll see more health care monitoring shift into the home,” he told National Academies. “And it’ll be more common to integrate nontraditional objects into our health care.”
What do smart toilet seats measure?
Not all health-related smart toilet seats are designed to do the same thing. Some take vitals from monitors embedded in the seat; others test urine directly, while still others scan the bowl afterward to determine any health changes or illnesses that may be occurring.
Smart toilet seats aimed at cardiovascular health are being designed to monitor:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Blood oxygen level
Smart toilet seats with urine testing are designed to look at completely different metrics, however. While there are similarities, the features do vary so it will be important to compare models as they come onto the market. Some measurements may include:
- Urine pH
- Mineral levels (such as sodium, magnesium, calcium, etc.)
Smart toilet seats have also been developed that scan the toilet bowl for changes in the user’s urine or feces that could signal an intestinal or bladder infection, or decreased urine output, which could mean dehydration. The seat’s artificial intelligence notes changes in amounts and frequencies of elimination, as well as changes to color, shape and firmness.
How smart toilet seats can help caregivers
Borkholder explained to National Academies that collecting data daily via a toilet seat – instead of only at the doctor’s office – could have a dramatic effect on disease management.
“Putting a suite of cardiovascular sensors into a toilet seat requires zero change in habit from the individual to gather that data,” he said.
That could make a huge difference for caregivers tasked with regular blood pressure readings—especially when a care recipient with dementia or Alzheimer’s is confused or combative over the measure.
With that data transmitted directly to your loved one’s care team, this also relieves the caregiver burden of tracking, storing and disseminating any of the information. Even better, there are smart toilets being developed to also collect samples—which might well be worth the investment in some caregiving situations.
“For the first time, we’d be able to gather vital signs data every day,” Borkholder continued. “You can personalize it and see what’s happening with the individual and pick up on the emergence or worsening of disease.”
By catching conditions early – and consistently monitoring chronic ones – technology like smart toilet seats may even be able to help Mom and Dad live longer.
“Having technology that tracks what is normal for an individual could provide an early warning that a checkup is needed,” Duke University research professor Sonia Grego told The Guardian. “It’s very difficult to know when to escalate or de-escalate treatment. Stool-based biomarkers can provide that information.”
Some information – such as ketone levels – could also make caregivers aware of the need for sudden medical treatment.
Grego foresees that smart toilet technology will evolve to also offer nutrition and lifestyle advice.
“The science of nutrition is really moving in the direction of personalized nutrition. Our technology will be an enabler of this because you have information of what you eat, but we can make seamless the obtaining of information of what comes out.”
What smart toilets are available now?
While several varieties of smart toilet seats are currently on the market for other purposes, it’s still early in the development of health-related versions. The TrueLoo is one that’s being tested through pilot programs in care facilities, with the aim of eliminating invasive conversations between caregivers and residents about toileting habits and allowing more time to be dedicated to caregiving. After scanning the bowl, it can alert staff right away if a resident has an infection such as C. diff—which is highly transmissible in care settings.
“The TrueLoo smart toilet enables us, in a dignified and valuable manner, to better monitor and follow up when important changes to output are identified,” said Legacy Senior Communities CEO Melissa Orth. “This expedites our response and increases the accuracy and timeliness of important data.”
What’s coming in smart toilet technology
Smart toilet seats that collect health data have one hurdle to clear before hitting the U.S. market—approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Casana’s Heart Seat – which tracks vitals such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation – is currently in FDA review. It’s expected to be available at the end of the year and will require a prescription because it’s labeled as medical equipment.
The U-Scan and Vivoo – both of which test urine for nutritional information and ketones – will need FDA approval as well. U-Scan’s manufacturer expects it to be available in Europe this year, while Vivoo hopes to hit the market in 2025. At this rate, any number of smart toilet options could be available to help monitor Mom and Dad’s health within just a few years.