£20M Research and Technology Centre at Imperial to enable people with dementia to live in own homes for longer

16 Apr 2019 | Network Updates | Update from Imperial College London
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A ground-breaking £20m research centre will develop new technologies to create dementia-friendly ‘Healthy Homes’ and provide insights into how dementia develops.

The new Care Research & Technology Centre at Imperial College London joins six national discovery science centres that collectively make up the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). This unique new centre will use a range of approaches - from artificial intelligence and robotics to sleep monitoring - to enable people with dementia to live safely and independently in their own homes.

Based at Imperial College London, in collaboration with the University of Surrey, the centre will be funded by the UK DRI’s three founding partners: the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, of which over 60 per cent are living in the community.  

The goal of the new centre is to develop technologies to enable people to live in their own homes for as long as possible, explains Professor David Sharp, Neurologist at Imperial College London and Head of the new centre: “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. What’s more we’ll be able to improve our understanding of dementia onset and progression.”

The centre will be based at the Sir Michael Uren Biomedical Engineering Research Hub, part of Imperial’s White City Campus. It will bring together scientists, engineers and doctors to build on existing, early-stage technologies that can be integrated into a person’s home. The idea is this technology continuously assesses physical and mental wellbeing, alerting a person’s medical team of any potential problems at an early stage.

Some of the technology developed at the centre will include:

  • Sensors placed around the house or on a patient’s body to track vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.  The hope is these sensors – some of which are small enough to be worn as a small earpiece - will also provide key information such as gait, brain activity, and sleep that have previously been hard to measure in the home.
  • Artificial intelligence that will automatically integrate all this patient information and flag any changes – for instance 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.
  • Technology that allows researchers and medical teams to that tracks a patient’s memory and cognitive function. The centre’s goal is to be able to monitor behaviour in the home with technology that doesn’t interfere with their everyday life - and then use this information to predict when patients might run into problems, such as if they begin to become agitated or distressed, and intervene early to assist them.
  • Methods of tracking sleep quality. Sleep disturbance is a significant problem in dementia, but is hard to monitor at home. The centre will develop new ways to track sleep via motion sensors in the beds and bed sheets, and use this information to potentially improve sleep quality.
  • Quick, simple at-home tests for common infections. Infections are a significant issue for people with dementia, and often lead to hospital stays.  The centre will develop rapid tests that a carer can use, which send immediate results to their GP.
  • Robotic devices that interact with patients living with dementia. These devices will assist by alerting patients to safety risks – such as spilt liquid on the floor or a cooker left on, in addition to monitoring if a patient seems agitated or distressed, and notifying the patient’s healthcare team.

All of the technology will be assessed and evaluated by people living with dementia, and their carers, to ensure it is both practical and needed.*

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Advanced technologies such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence have great potential to support us in illness or old age. This project will help those living with dementia stay in their own homes for longer, with the dignity and independence we all deserve.

“One of our modern Industrial Strategy’s Grand Challenges is Ageing Society, and that is why we are backing new research like this to help us all adapt to our society where people come first.”

Professor Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director, says: “As our discovery-research increases our understanding of dementia and how to treat or prevent it in the long term, this new centre brings an exciting vision for how to improve lives quicker. We sought a centre that asks new and fundamental questions on how to better support people with dementia. Whilst at the same time delivering valuable data, direct from patients, that will provide insights into the underlying causes and progression of dementia. We warmly welcome David and his team to the growing UK DRI family, and look forward to seeing this innovative, patient-centric, technology-based programme develop to deliver transformational changes to how we care for people with dementia.”

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

Scientists at the centre have already developed safe and robust data storage technologies, to ensure all personal data is secure. The new centre will be part of the national UK DRI, which was launched in 2016 to find scientific solutions to one of society's biggest health challenges: over 1 million people are expected to have dementia in the UK by 2025.

Following formal processes, the new centre will open on 1st June 2019.

This release was first published 16 April 2019 by Imperial College London.

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