Devices promoting independence in people with dementia could lighten nurses’ workload

Imperial College scientists investigate technology that could transform individuals’ lives 

Imperial College scientists investigate technology that could transform individuals’ lives 

Brain activity device. Picture: Imperial College London

Tailored technology could help people with dementia live at home for longer and might help dementia nurses manage their workload, scientists claim.

A new £20 million research centre, based at Imperial College London, is looking to develop low-cost tools for managing the condition outside of hospitals and care homes.

Sensors which monitor activity, devices that track vital signs and artificial intelligence to detect changes in behaviour are among the approaches being explored.

The vision is to create a 'dementia-friendly' home that will continually assess an individual's wellbeing.

Potential for reducing hospital admissions

Those behind the project believe it could cut hospital admissions from preventable conditions and falls, by alerting healthcare staff to anything of concern as early as possible.

David Sharp, centre head, said doctors could begin offering such technology to patients within the next decade, following further research.

Professor Sharp believes the current dementia care system could be transformed with the help of technology.

'If you're a dementia nurse, we think that our technology will allow you to prioritise how you use your time, it would allow you to be much more intelligent about the way you interact with patients,' he said.

'If we can reduce hospital admissions, if we can keep people out of care homes and out of hospital for as long as possible, that has major economic wins.'

Technology being developed by the team includes sensors to track heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as brain activity, sleep and even gait.

‘This work has to go hand-in-hand with the promised government overhaul of social care’

Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer, Alzheimer's Society

This data could be collated and analysed, flagging symptoms such as a high temperature, which could indicate a possible infection, or changes in walking pattern, which may suggest someone is at risk of a fall.

Prototypes will be produced by engineers, tested with people in a controlled setting, and then introduced in a larger group to try at home.

Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer's Society, said: 'We've seen technology transform the lives of people with other health conditions. But this work has to go hand in hand with the promised government overhaul of social care – otherwise, scarce, expensive and poor-quality dementia care will only undermine our efforts to improve people's lives through technology.'

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