A new £20m research centre at Imperial’s West London campus near White City will open this June to explore home-based technology to help people living with dementia. There will be a suite of advanced sensors throughout the home recording things like detailed behaviour assessment, infection monitoring, medication effects, sleep assessment and brain activity changes. The information from these systems will feed into a small home server that will give patients control over their own data. AI and machine learning will help identify patterns in the data and help healthcare professionals to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in real time. The centre will work with Imperial’s design centre, Helix, to obtain feedback on prototypes from patients and carers, and trial the best technology in the homes of about 50 dementia patients, with a new group of 50 rotated in every six months.
Prof David Sharp, a neurologist at Imperial College London and head of the new research centre, said: “Around 25% of all the NHS beds are occupied by people living with dementia, and we estimate that about 20% of those admissions are potentially preventable……What we propose is that the centre will develop an intelligent environment, so really a cost-effective home that uses advanced engineering solutions and artificial intelligence to support and protect patients living in their own home…..We have a prototype of an ear EEG system that can be used to track brain activity over long periods of time, so we’ll be evaluating that. We’re also going to be developing new biosensors to measure infection state as well as the earliest signs of the development of dementia from the blood. We want to use robotic devices and other ways of changing the environment to try and improve safety and to try and support people to live for as long as possible in the home.
“Revolutionising dementia care“
We’re very interested in the use of smartphone apps, for example, for monitoring certain aspects of disease progression. We’ve already funded that and we have a system for monitoring memory and attention and how people are affected. And that will be free to download. So there’ll be an element that anyone will be able to access, from anywhere in the world. Of course some of the more complicated technology will come at a cost. We think the technology will transform the efficiency, the use of the resources available, improve the way GPs are operating, reduce hospital admissions, keep people out of care homes and out of hospital for as long as possible. That has major economic wins, and people also want to stay in their homes with their loved ones as long as possible. They don’t want to be in a nursing home or sitting for three months in a hospital bed because they had a UTI but we couldn’t treat it. That’s the target. That’s a win all round.”
According to healthcare professionals at Sova Healthcare, one of the new devices is called EEG (electroencephalogram). It is designed to fit in the ear of a patient which will then monitor brain activity fluctuations with radar technology used to track movements within the home. The sensors will identify any changes in the behaviour of patients which have the potential to put them in hospital. Changes include a new walking pattern that might lead to a fall or increases in body temperature which is likely to suggest an infection. The results from the monitoring can then be sent to doctors or nurses early if potential problems are arising. This can help to give a holistic overview of a patient, as the data can help better understand the effect of drug treatments and patient well-being. The technology will also be able to track sleep quality of the patient, which is hard to track in the home. Since sleep disturbance is a huge problem for dementia patients, the centre wants to create motion sensors that can be fitted to beds to track sleep. The information gathered might improve the quality of sleep for patients.