Dementia kit: tech leads the charge to protect people’s independence

Lindsay Cook 18 September 2019 – Dementia costs more than it should. With better, earlier diagnosis and the clever use of technology,
the UK could save £100bn in the next 15 years, according to the International Longevity Centre.  The alternative: do nothing, put Britain’s health and social care system under intolerable strain and leave hundreds of thousands of families to cope alone, without the resources they need.

The £26bn spent each year on dementia care in the UK would be significantly reduced if the symptoms of the disease were delayed by five years, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. This would enable those diagnosed to retain their independence and stay in the family home.

The UK has committed to the target of helping people live independently for longer and is encouraging innovation to help bring it about.

The £98m Healthy Ageing Programme, funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and led by UK Research and Innovation, has opened its first tranche of competitions to stimulate new ideas for products, services and business models, to help us all — both those with dementia and those without — live healthier, happier and more independent lives as we age.

The projects will have to show that they tackle the challenges of older life including “living well with cognitive impairment.”

Unforgettable was set up four years ago by James Ashwell to provide products to help people with a dementia diagnosis. He had been caring for his mother after her diagnosis of young-onset dementia and had struggled to find products to help her to live independently.

The UK could save £100bn over the next 15 years with better, earlier diagnosis and clever use of technology

Music has been found to be calming for people with dementia and specially adapted music players and radios are big sellers. The company’s challenge is to
make the machines adapt to the progression of the disease, allowing them to be used with a number of buttons or a single one with the others hidden.

It is also important to ensure the products are designed “so that they fit into homes without being obvious disability aids,” Mr Vaughan adds.

Other popular products monitor how often a person picks up a cup or bottle to drink and can remind people who may risk dehydration to drink.

Colin Capper, head of research, development and evaluation at the Alzheimer’s Society, has run workshops for people with dementia to establish how technology can help them keep their independence. He is currently working with the Cass Business School on its Self-Care Advice Monitoring, Planning and Intervention research project.

The scheme is developing software that will allow someone with dementia — together with their relatives, carers and healthcare professionals — to manage their condition at home. It analyses their interests and hobbies and suggests suitable activities.

The Alzheimer’s Society has also linked up with McCann Worldgroup to launch My Carer, software for Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device. It adapts to the user’s daily routine, reminding them what to do and guiding them through daily tasks — from taking their medication to preparing lunch and remembering birthdays.

Live Better With recently introduced its Canary Home Care Monitoring System, designed to alert carers to fridge, kettle, tap and late-night door use in the home of a person with a dementia diagnosis. It works without WiFi or a phone line and does not invade privacy because it does not have a camera.

Artificial intelligence is also being used to enhance support. Dr Dexter Penn, a clinical research fellow at the UCL Dementia Research Centre, developed a personal finance product called Kalgera after one of his patients lost the money to fund his place in a care home.

Kalgera uses AI and neuroscience to detect vulnerability and provide the secure sharing of this information with trusted family and friends who can identify problems and act accordingly.

There is no charge for the service, which has been funded by private investment and grants, as well as being part of UCL’s incubator programme.

The Alzheimer’s Society is funding the development of more new products through the Dementia Research Institute. It interviews members and their families and tests the resulting products in the community. Anonymised feedback is then passed to manufacturers and suppliers who use it to improve their products.