Alzheimer Europe reports that at least 5.7 million Europeans, aged between 40 and 80, have Parkinson’s disease or dementia. With an aging population, an estimated 10 million new cases of Parkinson’s and dementia is expected within the next 40 years. Care is provided by nursing homes and specialised centres to 70% of advanced dementia patients. So today, European researchers are tackling the problem of how people with these diseases can keep their independence and quality of life longer, while safely living in their own homes.
Parkinson’s disease and dementia are examples of neurological diseases. They are both progressive, so the symptoms worsen with time as the disease progresses. Dementia starts off with the patient having cognitive problems (for example, remembering daily activities). Despite continuing research, there is no cure and no way to halt the progression of the disease. But adapting the environment of those who suffer the disease is a good step in minimising the negative effects the disease will have on their everyday lives.
The Rosetta Project is based near Frankfurt, Germany. The goal is to develop assistive and intelligent environments for patients to live in, where irregular changes in their behaviour will raise an alarm. This is the function of one development called Early Detection System. The technology involved is not considered to be an invasion of privacy, since no pictures or sounds are recorded. The system does nothing more than tracking and analysing the person’s position in the environment.
Elizabeth Athmer-Aghina, an 85 year old sufferer of dementia, had to spend three hours lying on the floor after a fall. Now her home has been fitted with sensors that send data to a remote centre, giving her security in knowing that if the alarm should go off, someone will come to her aid.
Another system, being developed in Holland and tested at a nursing home in Soest, is called Short Term Monitoring. It enables people with dementia to take more responsibility from their daily needs.
A touch screen has also been created to help dementia sufferers remember basic tasks and communicate with others. For example, the screen will sound an alarm when the patient should be having a meal. It is designed in particular to assist the carers of sufferers.
The trial period for these technologies and others continues until 2012. In 2011 testing will commence in three European countries, whereby 30 houses will be set up with sensor systems and assistive technologies.
It is expected that care institutions will be key players in the initial investment of these technologies and getting them into the homes of patients. The institutions will benefit from the reduced labour costs, while the patients benefit from the prolonged period of independent life.