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Smart healthcare for dementia management

Sensors playing central role in battle against dementia

  • This project was announced in April 2016

Sensor technology is on the cusp of being used to revolutionise the lives of people with early-stage dementia by helping them, and their carers, to identify areas of concern and live more independently, thanks to the work of a Scottish community interest company.

The Rapport Network, one of the winners at Scotland’s first-ever IoTUK Boost event, uses technology common in many UK homes to create a system of sensors focussed around individuals’ daily routines. The network of devices provides real-time alerts, analysis, reminders, monitoring and reporting to help people make sense of the patterns and trends over time and predict future areas of need.

Among many applications, sensors are being used to detect the sleep quality, eating habits, toilet usage and physical activity of those living with dementia, by attaching devices to relevant parts of their homes – potentially a fridge door, a bed or the entrance to a house. Sensors are also being employed to identify when gas has been left on in the home; a particular issue for those with sensory loss.

Rapport is currently running a pilot project with the University of Stirling and the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust to help people use off-the-shelf smart watches and environment sensors to detect and predict periods of anxiety and distress. This real-time information can be used by those living with dementia to help them self-manage their condition, and by families and carers to help guide them when reassurance and support is most needed.

Gary Cornelius, co-founder of the Rapport Network, said: “People don’t realise there’s a world of information at their fingertips – so a lot of what we do is about awareness. The data created by many of the devices most people have in their homes, and the gadgets they carry around with them, can be harnessed to help you spot areas of life where someone with early-stage dementia might need assistance.

“For many, it won’t be clear to them without seeing how other people have been affected and the earlier the intervention, the better. We’re running community workshops which look to inspire people to use available technology through a series of story-telling exercises – designed to help those affected by dementia, and their families, identify areas of need in their own lives.

“Story-telling is just one part of the puzzle. We also need to get people around the person with dementia involved in using the technology to its full potential. That could be the children, grandchildren or carers of the people with dementia, whom might be more tech-savvy. Our role is mostly about driving awareness of the fact that these low-cost, easy-to-use technologies are out there and the data they produce can be used in so many ways to help improve people’s lives.

“These struggles are only going to increase as our population ages and the number of people with dementia far outstrips those able to care for them. The disease is a growing issue for society, with predictions suggesting the number of people diagnosed with the disease will double in Scotland over the next decade. Ultimately, we need to help people to help themselves.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Society latest figures from 2013, the total cost of dementia in the UK is £26.3 billion. Two-thirds of that cost (£17.4 billion) is paid for by the people diagnosed with the disease and their families, either through unpaid care or paying for private social care. The condition affects 90,000 people in Scotland, with around 3,200 of them under the age of 65.

Rapport hopes to improve the quality of life for users of its systems, and the carers; supporting people with dementia to live independently for longer and reduce carer stress and lost wages. The social enterprise estimates it can save £8,000 for each person per year on delayed care home admissions and unplanned hospital admissions, and £1,800 for every serious fall prevented.

Recently one of five winners at the Scottish leg of IoTUK Boost, organised by Scottish Funding Council-backed CENSIS, The Data Lab, the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Ventures and IoTUK, Rapport will now undergo one-month of incubation and mentoring, to fast-track its growth, the number of people it reaches and the network of devices it is able deploy.

Dr Alasdair Thin, co-founder of the Rapport Network, said: “Everybody’s needs are different, but there’s a limit to what health and social care can do in terms of matching their services to each individual’s requirements. We’re aiming to help establish as accurately as possible what people can and cannot do and tackle that problem, which could result in big cost savings for the families and carers of those living with dementia. It could also realise notable cost efficiencies for local authorities and social work services.

“But it’s not just about money saved. A large part of this project is about reducing stress and anxiety for everyone involved, providing them with independence and helping them manage periods of changing circumstances. That means trying to prevent falls; the risk of fires, flooding or gas leaks; and helping with episodes of confusion, and reducing the risk of being lost or the risks associated with getting lost.

“Winning IoTUK Boost will provide us with some of the technical expertise we need and ultimately help us move closer towards developing our own platform and infrastructure. The CENSIS team is also helping us find off-the-shelf electronics that we were previously trying to build ourselves, which meant a lot of time and effort was wasted on re-inventing the wheel.”

Mark Begbie, Business Development Director at CENSIS, said: “Rapport has a great deal of knowledge and expertise in their field, combined with a desire to make a real difference to the lives of thousands of people. They have a fantastic vision to improve the quality of life for people living with early-stage dementia, as well as the wider circle of people affected by it. This is an excellent example of how technology can be used to improve the lives of the vulnerable and tackle some of society’s greatest challenges.”

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