Academics and industry unite to improve dementia patients' lives
An EU-funded project has linked scientists with experts in industry to forge partnerships aimed at creating new products to improve the lives of people with dementia. The research is creating tools to help remind people with dementia to undertake the tasks critical to their daily lives.
© Chris Nugent, 2019
Dementia currently affects around 10 million people in the EU, with that number expected to double by 2030. Dementia already costs European economies USD 300 billion per year, according to the World Health Organization, and an effective pharmacological treatment for the condition still appears to be a long way off.
People with dementia tend to experience impairments that make it hard to remember to undertake the tasks necessary for daily life. Until now, efforts to remind people to complete such tasks have typically used mobile phones, but not all patients are comfortable using a mobile device; they may find it too complicated or they might not understand how it works and they may lose it.
To tackle this challenge, the EU-funded REMIND project has connected academics and pioneers in industry to investigate whether the mobile phone is really the best option and to push forward the development of alternative technological solutions to improve the lives of people with dementia.
A key innovation consists in algorithmic processes for handling information from thermal tracking devices that allow reminders to be delivered to users wherever they are in their home through digital TV, digital radio or smart speakers. The REMIND project uses low-resolution thermal tracking devices to locate people and protect privacy.
We dont really want to put a camera in someones bathroom or bedroom, thats a real invasion of privacy, so weve developed some state-of-the-art algorithms that will help us understand how many people are in the environment, what they are doing, who they are interacting with and what the likelihood is that a reminder should be delivered at a specific time, says project coordinator Chris Nugent of Ulster University in the United Kingdom.
Enabling independent living
One major challenge for REMIND is incorporating the theory of behavioural science with the tools and techniques of computer science. The researchers aim to use this shared knowledge to develop solutions that work within a smart environment for example, a home or a shopping centre that can understand who is there and what their intention might be.
Coupled with a daily agenda, we want to take all of that information to create a reminding solution, says Nugent. That reminder might be take your medication, eat some food, see your doctor, or meet a family member. If we deliver that reminder while they are in the smart environment, we can understand where that person is, for example, in the kitchen. If we are able to determine where they are, we can try to determine what their next move will be and we can push information to them through a smart device using a text message or a picture or an audio message.
The work has so far led to the publication of 13 peer-reviewed research papers, as well as the ongoing development of smart devices for individuals with dementia. Their development relies on six smart environment labs created to facilitate the research and testing.
Cross-fertilisation of knowledge
The 16 institutions from 10 countries within and outside EU involved in the project include academic experts in intelligent systems, context-aware computing and artificial intelligence, along with user bodies such as Alzheimers associations. These researchers are working with industrial partners with expertise in software development standards and the regulatory issues around the development of new healthcare technologies.
If we wish to introduce a new reminding solution based on, for example, thermal sensors, then we need to adhere to healthcare regulatory processes the companies we are working with are providing the support for that, says Nugent.