£20m dementia centre to develop tech for the home

A new research and technology centre will explore a range of innovations for monitoring and treating dementia in the home, potentially easing the burden on patients and the NHS.

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Based at Imperial College London’s White City campus, the £20m UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre is a multi-partner collaboration that includes Surrey University, with financial backing coming via the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. Using a combination of sensors, AI, robotics, sleep trackers and infection testing, it is hoped that a system can be developed to aid the 850,000 people suffering with dementia, a number set to jump in coming years.

“The vision for this centre is to use patient-centered technology to help people affected by dementia to live better and for longer in their own homes,” said the head of the new centre, Prof David Sharp, a neurologist at Imperial College London.

“Latest figures suggest one in four hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia – and 20 per cent of these admissions are due to preventable causes such as falls, dehydration and infections. The new technologies we develop will improve our ability to support people in their homes. They will allow us to intervene at an early stage, to prevent the crises that so often lead to hospital stays, or a move to a care home. What’s more, we’ll be able to improve our understanding of dementia onset and progression.”

According to Prof Sharp, some of the technologies that will be explored include miniaturised radar and off-the-shelf sensors that could either be purchased by patients themselves or potentially prescribed by the NHS. An earpiece sensor being developed in-house at Imperial will provide information on gait and sleep, as well as acting as a mobile EEG, delivering a consistent stream of data over many hours rather than for just a few minutes in a clinical setting.

This holistic monitoring will also allow medical staff to better understand the effect of drug treatments and patient wellbeing. AI systems will help to detect ailments such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) earlier, something that could reduce stressful and costly hospital admissions.   

“Stays in hospitals and care homes can be very distressing for people with dementia,” said Payam Barnaghi, Professor of Machine Intelligence at Surrey University and deputy director of the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research and Technology Centre.

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“Not only are they trying to navigate a new physical environment, they are distanced from their friends and families causing further distress. The technologies involved in this project will enable people to live independently at home whilst not sacrificing their care.

“Working with the latest machine learning capabilities means the technology we’re using will be able to get better at spotting warning signs and events that require intervention. Doctors will be able to have confidence in their ability to monitor people remotely and to react quickly to any worrying changes. Improving the quality of life of people with dementia is crucial to their and their families overall wellbeing.”

According to Imperial, scientists involved in the project have already developed safe and robust data storage technologies, to ensure all personal data is secure. The new centre is due to open on June 1 2019.

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