5 new technologies that could help people with dementia live at home for longer

As we announce a new £20 million research centre focusing on innovation in care research, read about five of the new technologies we hope to see developed here.

There are currently over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and many of them want to live in their own homes for as long as possible.

Today (17 April), we're announcing a new £20 million research centre that will develop a range of technologies to make that a reality.

In early 2016, Alzheimer’s Society pledged £50 million to support the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). This breakthrough initiative is attracting the best brains to dementia research in the UK.

Part of this funding will support the UK DRI Care Research and Technology Centre, which will develop technologies to create dementia friendly homes.

Fiona Carragher, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'Developing dementia shouldn’t have to mean losing your independence and your choice to live in your own home.

But we know there can be problems – from the 74-year-old who kept leaving the gas on, to the woman whose urine infection went undetected so long she ended up spending 12 weeks in hospital – and we want to find a solution.'

A researcher testing various different assistive technologies in the lab at Imperial College London

A researcher testing various different assistive technologies in the lab at Imperial College London

5 technologies that could transform lives 

Here we share just a few of the types of technology scientists, engineers and doctors will be working to integrate into people’s homes.

Some of this technology will continuously assess physical and mental wellbeing, alerting a person’s medical team of any potential problems at an early stage.

  1. It may seem like something from the future but the centre will develop robotic devices that interact with people living with dementia and alert them to safety risks - such as a cooker left on or a spilt liquid on the floor.
  2. Sensors could allow researchers to monitor the vital signs of people with dementia such as blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature in their homes.  
  3. Artificial Intelligence will automatically integrate patient’s information and flag any unexpected changes – for example 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.
  4. Tracking changes to memory and thinking abilities by monitoring behaviour in the home with technology that doesn’t interfere with everyday life. Researchers could use this information to anticipate when people with dementia may run into problems.
  5. We know that infections can exacerbate the symptoms of dementia, so the centre will develop a simple at home test for common infections that can be sent immediately to a person's GP.

Fiona continued: 'We’ve seen technology transform the lives of people with other health conditions. Now, with the work of the UK Dementia Research Institute Care and Technology centre, this is dementia’s moment to benefit from the latest developments in AI, smartphone technology and social robotics.

'But this work has to go hand in hand with the promised Government overhaul of social care – or scarce, expensive and poor quality dementia care will only undermine our efforts to improve people’s lives through technology.'

The human touch

We know that technology will never replace human contact. But with the right approach, assistive technology can bring additional support and peace of mind to people affected by dementia. 

Every stage of the development will be supported and guided by people affected by dementia to make sure that all technology is practical and needed. This involvement maximises the impact of every second spent on research and development at the Centre. It also speeds up the time it takes to move new research from the lab, to the clinic and to the real world.

Research will beat dementia – bringing together the best brains from engineering, neuroscience and medicine means the UK DRI can help us get to that vision even quicker.

Supporting people at home

Professor David Sharp, neurologist at Imperial College London and head of the new centre, said: 

’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. 

‘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.’

The centre based at Imperial College London, in collaboration with the University of Surrey will be funded by Alzheimer’s Society alongside the Medical Research Council and Alzheimer’s Research UK. 

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20 comments

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Fantastic news! The outlook has just got brighter.

This is amazing news and very forward thinking. Dementia patients need so much more care than they are getting and technology along with personal care may well help people with dementia get the right type of care they so deserve.

All these things will be useful to help Carers. But Carers need help now, and who will replace the smile, the caring touch and reassurance.

This sounds really good, as I am thinking of placing my husband in a home at the moment and find it a very difficult decision to take. I am sure with the right help at home people living with Dementia will be able to stay in their own home.

Hi Julie we made the decision to get mum into a home last May after much deliberation and it has definitely been the best decision for everyone. The change has not been easy for mum but she now has 24 hour positive interaction with carers and other residents and she is much happier

Absolutely what everyone needed to read. Amazing to see what human ingenuity and directed academic knowledge can come up with and develop. This amazing research hub at UCL will endorse all of us that know personal public donations given to Dementia UK are proactively being made to 'work' in the most superb way.
Fiona Carragher and those steering this charity have shown brilliant integrity driving this research institution into existence because it definitely will make dementia less impacting. On behalf of all of us that want to continue giving, 'Thank you' for your hard work coordinating this.

Better off at home.

This is welcoming news and I hope we are able to add similar resources to prevention and root causes of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

This is excellent news. Everyone who works to rid the world of this awful didease should be commended. Everyone who lives with dementia can at least hope to benefit from this work, if not now, then in the future.

The very best help is a partner able and willing to look after you at home. Even the good care home does not match the well supported own home.
My big help comes from basic occupational therapy with provision of hoists, electric bed, chair and bathroom fits, then the carers come in 2x/day to assist with the dual help of getting up/'down' washing and feeding.
Then of course I have to be there and do want to be there for most of the day and every day. A great bid thank you to OT.

This is a big step forward and I’m looking forward to hearing about more in the future. Keep up the excellent work. I hope the government will put more funds into research too but only to try to rid the world of this awful cruel disease but as a cost effective way of preventing the NHS being overloaded too.

Keen to know more on how this technology will prevent urine infections. How do you get people to drink even when the cup or glass is there in front of them.

And if flagged up getting GPS to actually prescribe antibiotics is very difficult currently. So if the equipment actually tells them something is wrong then perhaps they will act on it. As the info is on the system.

Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment.
The researchers based at the UK DRI Care and Technology centre will be looking to find a way to optimise the diagnosis of urine infections at home, feed results quickly to GPs so that antibiotics can be prescribed quickly and efficient. We’ll keep you updated with any developments.
In the meantime you might find this information about ‘Eating and drinking’ helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/eating-drinking
Thanks,
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Alzheimer's Society research team

This is very exciting and encouraging. I have been diagnosed as having Alzheimer for the last few years.
I still live at home and am looked after by my lovely wife and would like to involve myself further in your organisation.
I am an actor by trade and am used to talking with large and small organisations. If you feel that I can help further please contact me.

Hello Bernard,

Thank you so much for getting in touch. We’re delighted to hear you’re looking to get involved with Alzheimer’s Society.

There are many opportunities where your experiences can help to shape our work. You can help to ensure everything we do reflects the needs of people affected by dementia.

This page lists some examples of opportunities you might be interested in; it includes media (radio, TV, newspaper), public speaking, and our Research Network. Take a look: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-involved/dementia-voice/get-involved-…

At the very bottom of that page, there’s a button to an online form where you can choose which opportunities you’re interested in. (Or, to skip straight to the form, head here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/form/influence-our-work)

Alternatively, feel free to send us an email and we’ll be happy to chat further about your involvement with the Society: [email protected]

Many thanks again!

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Alzheimer’s Society blog team

Hi what amazing news for everyone and their families that are suffering from this cruel and tragic disease. Keep up the good work you guys I hope you know how much your efforts are appreciated by all who see this disease on a daily basis. My family lost our beloved Dad last year to vascular dementia and are now helping our Mum through her battle with Alzheimer’s. Massive Thank You .

I would be an advocate for people to stay at home but it’s having carers going in that’s the problem. We struggled to get carers to go in at the times that would suit mum. First thing in the morning..they said the best they could do was between 9-11, last thing at night was between 6-8.
Mum had started to wander and as she was on her own when the carers weren’t there she could happily just get up and go. She had no concept of danger. For her the best place was a home.
£1,250 pounds per week is what we pay plus extras, it’s astronomical. When her money runs out what do we do then!?????

40 years research supports building inclusive environments to assist people living with cognitive and sensory impairments to live with dignity and independence in their home communities. Assistive technology is great but a first step would be to design to support and not disable. This is possible to do today we have the knowledge, we just need to build awareness and see people with invisible disabilities given equal consideration as people with physical impairments. Design is a cost effective technology we have at our disposal today.

This development is exciting and will be very helpful when developed. However further help is needed now. My experience is that those suffering need constant reassurance. how do you deal with the questions like " why doesn't my mummy come and visit me" or " I don't want to sleep on my own". My mother had AMD as well which is not uncommon but no-one ever understood the complication of being visually impaired as well.

Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment.

You're right to say it's quite common for a person with dementia to be facing challenges around other non-dementia symptoms.

We have some advice for coping with dementia and sight or hearing loss on our website: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sig…

Those difficult questions you mention are also typical, and there is also some advice on our website around communication: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sym…

I hope these links are useful. Anyone experiencing these challenges can also call our helpline for information, advice and emotional support: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Best wishes,
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Alzheimer's Society blog team

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