Home is the new frontier for dementia research

A new programme based at Imperial College London will focus on technologies that help people with dementia to live well in their own homes.
By Piers Ford
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Summary

The UK Dementia Research Institute has appointed its seventh research centre – a £20 million facility based at Imperial College London, which will be tasked with developing new technologies to help people live in ‘dementia-friendly’ homes, as well as gathering insights into how the condition develops.

With the collaboration of the University of Surrey, the new centre will bring together scientists, engineers and doctors to develop existing and early-stage technologies that can be integrated in the patient’s home, continually assessing their physical and mental well-being – and alerting clinicians early to any problems.

These technologies will include: sensors that track vital signs as well as movement and sleep; AI to flag changes in movement patterns or fluctuations in body temperature, technology to track behaviour (for example, in relation to memory and cognitive function); sleep tracking (disturbed sleeping patterns are a common factor for dementia patients); home-tests for common infections; and robotic devices that interact with people and can alert patients to safety risks posed by events such as spillage or kitchen equipment being left on.

What’s the impact?

Opening on 1 June, the new centre will take a patient-centric approach to complement the neurobiology focus of much current research in the country. Resulting technologies will enable dementia patients to live better lives in their own homes for longer, and generate rich data to help scientists better understand the underlying causes and progression of the condition.

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

What’s the trend?

The latest figures suggest that 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 we develop will improve our ability to support people in their homes,” said Professor Sharp. “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.”

On the record

“The technologies involved in this project will enable people to live independently at home whilst not sacrificing their care,” said Professor Payam Barnaghi, Professor of Machine Intelligence at the University of Surrey.

“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.”

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