A new Care Research & Technology Centre at Imperial College London will develop patient-centred technologies to create dementia-friendly ‘Healthy Homes’ and provide insights into how dementia develops.
This £20m centre will use a range of approaches - from artificial intelligence and robotics to sleep monitoring - to enable people with dementia to live safely and independently in their own homes.
Based at Imperial College London, in collaboration with the University of Surrey, the centre will be funded by the UK Dementia Research Institute’s (DRI) three founding partners: the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, of which over 60% are living in the community. Latest figures suggest one in four hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia – and 20% of these admissions are due to preventable causes such as falls, dehydration and infections.
The new technologies developed will improve the ability to support people in their homes and to prevent the crises that so often lead to hospital stays or a move to a care home.
The idea is artificial intelligence technology will continuously assess physical and mental well being, alerting a person’s medical team of any potential problems at an early stage.
Some of the technology developed at the centre will include:
- Sensors placed around the house or on a patient’s body to track vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. The hope is these sensors – some of which are small enough to be worn as a small earpiece - will also provide key information such as gait, brain activity, and sleep that have previously been hard to measure in the home.
- Artificial intelligence that will automatically integrate all this patient information and flag any changes – for instance highlighting a change in walking pattern that might suggest a patient is at risk of a fall, or an elevated temperature that could suggest an infection.
- Technology that allows researchers and medical teams to tracks a patient’s memory and cognitive function. The centre’s goal is to be able to monitor behaviour in the home with technology that doesn’t interfere with their everyday life - and then use this information to predict when patients might run into problems, such as if they begin to become agitated or distressed and intervene early to assist them.
- Methods of tracking sleep quality. Sleep disturbance is a significant problem in dementia but is hard to monitor at home. The centre will develop new ways to track sleep via motion sensors in the beds and bed sheets and use this information to potentially improve sleep quality.
- Quick, simple at-home tests for common infections. Infections are a significant issue for people with dementia and often lead to hospital stays. The centre will develop rapid tests that a carer can use, which send immediate results to their GP.
- Robotic devices that interact with patients living with dementia. These devices will assist by alerting patients to safety risks – such as spilt liquid on the floor or a cooker left on, in addition to monitoring if a patient seems agitated or distressed, and notifying the patient’s healthcare team.
All of the technology will be assessed and evaluated by people living with dementia, and their carers, to ensure it is both practical and needed.
Professor Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director, says: “As our discovery-research increases our understanding of dementia and how to treat or prevent it in the long term, this new centre brings an exciting vision for how to improve lives quicker. We sought a centre that asks new and fundamental questions on how to better support people with dementia.
"Whilst at the same time delivering valuable data, direct from patients, that will provide insights into the underlying causes and progression of dementia. We warmly welcome David and his team to the growing UK DRI family, and look forward to seeing this innovative, patient-centric, technology-based programme develop to deliver transformational changes to how we care for people with dementia.”
The new centre will be part of the national UK DRI, which was launched in 2016 to find scientific solutions to one of society's biggest health challenges: over 1 million people are expected to have dementia in the UK by 2025.
Following formal processes, the new centre will open on 1st June 2019.