Addressing dementia with IoT
In January Simon Steven, NHS England Chief Executive, announced that the NHS would launch two new IoT innovation test beds as part of the IoTUK programme. One of these testbeds is to be based in Surrey, focusing on dementia and in honour of national dementia week we spoke to Helen Rostill, Head of the Internet of Things (IoT) innovation testbed in Surrey. Rostill discusses the opportunities and challenges of merging technology with healthcare; and ways the study on dementia could become the stepping stone for future research into other complex, long-term diseases. There is also an opportunity for those diagnosed with dementia and living in Surrey to participate in this study, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SaBP) is leading a new consortium of partners together with the University of Surrey, Royal Holloway University, Kent Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, the Alzheimer’s Society and 10 innovative small and medium enterprises to deliver technological solutions to help people with dementia live well in their homes and remain independent for longer. Our first and primary outcome of this study is about helping people with dementia to remain in their home, which means preventing hospital bed days and delaying admissions to nursing homes.
Our secondary focus is about improving the quality of life for 700 people with dementia and their carers over two years. Carer burnout is one of the key reasons that people with dementia might end up going into hospital or a nursing home, so it’s key to focus on both the person with dementia and their primary family caregiver.
How will IoT address dementia?
We are looking at a range of technologies that work together to help people interact with their environment as part of IoT. For carers, we have technology that can provide them with better information at an earlier stage by making them aware when things go wrong in real-time. We also want technology that can support carers in terms of their own wellbeing, for example wearables that monitor their health.
We will use a combination of different devices with a focus on an interoperable solution that will allow these devices to speak a common language. We will also take the data from those devices and translate them into actionable information for our medical team and carers.
We will also be using machine learning to help understand changes in people’s behaviour, allowing us to respond at an earlier stage enabling our team to be more responsive. For example, people come to a clinic when they are extremely unwell and often by that stage they need much greater attention. By alerting us earlier we can target our approach and be more effective in our care.
Who can get involved with the study?
The people we are including in our study will have been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia. Our plan is to recruit participants from the dementia registers across Surrey, which is held by our GPs. It will be about how we can scale up what we are learning and in another iteration of this study, we’d like to include people with mild cognitive decline.
How technology can improve healthcare
The potential of this technology is to provide a new window into the experience of a person living with dementia and their caregivers.
What we don’t have now is the ability to observe someone in their environment and this technology will allow us to do that. I think we will start to see unique patterns that we don’t know about yet, like seeing the effect and connection between variables such as room temperature and hydration. This data gives us potential to learn more about the condition and to apply that data into an earlier prevention stage.
The testbed, phase one
We have a living lab based at the University of Surrey in Guildford, which is our first phase of the study, where we are going to create a home environment for people with dementia and their caregivers. We will test out various combinations of devices; we will also bring clinical technology into the living lab for us to understand what outputs those clinical teams need to be more responsive.
We have a multi-disciplinary team, from nurses to social workers, and the integration of technology into their day-to-day work is quite a challenge.
One of the challenges is about looking at how to change the culture so that technology is not considered an interference but a tool that makes their jobs easier. We are looking at how to optimise learning within our workforce and how to get people engaged.
I think enabling somebody to live safely and with confidence in their own home environment is a fantastic benefit. People don’t want to go into hospital and spend a day, week or month in a hospital bed. We hope this project will help people stay at home longer and relieve the stress of caregiving, giving carers the confidence that they will be alerted if something goes wrong.
There’s no doubt dementia is a terrible and debilitating disease, anything that we can do to improve people’s quality of experience has to be helpful for the system by reducing bed stays and care home admissions. There is a lot of learning we can cascade across the health sector and I think for tech companies there’s great benefit in looking at the development of their products and what happens when you combine these products to provide better care. We also hope this test bed will be a stepping stone to better understand people with other complex and long-term conditions.