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Adam Vaughan, Head of New Product and Innovation at Unforgettable, shares what happened when he visited an award-winning research project which is using technology to improve the lives of people with dementia

Surrey University is the home of one of the UK’s most pioneering dementia research studies, which I had the pleasure of seeing for myself last week when I visited the university with Barbara Stephens, Unforgettable’s Caregiver in Chief.

The university is doing some great research work to help those living with dementia, but the project that particularly caught our eye was named ‘TIHM for dementia’. Universities seem to love an acronym, and this one stands for Technology Integrated Health Management.

What this means

Technology, in this case internet connected sensors and devices, are placed around people’s homes, to monitor their health and wellbeing remotely. Its aim is to help people with dementia stay independent and remain living in their own homes for as long as possible.

We were shown the TIHM test lab, which is a mock-up of a typical home with all the devices present. The devices themselves have a wide range of functions, from monitoring when doors are opened and closed, if a bed is being slept in or a chair sat on, to measuring vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygenation. They even know if the user has fallen.

The devices then send the data they collect to a secure central platform that combines all the information and learns the patterns of behaviour and general health of the users. For example, it can learn when they usually get out of bed, what their daily routine consists of and what their resting heart rate is.

This monitoring takes place 24 hours a day, with one health professional monitoring many homes remotely. Once it understands a user’s normal health and behaviour, the system can alert the health professional to anything out of the ordinary, such as the person not getting out of bed in the morning, going out of the house at an unusual time, or having high blood pressure. It can even understand if they’re agitated, as it can see them constantly moving around, opening and shutting cupboards, or sitting down and standing up again. At this point, the healthcare professional will call the user to check that they’re ok and understand what might be causing any issues. This means that many health and wellbeing problems can be spotted early and issues can be resolved before the need for a hospital visit arises.

The TIHM project is run in collaboration with Surrey and Borders NHS Trust and has been active for some time, with over 100 participants. The aim is to better understand how technology like this can help those living with dementia have improved health and wellbeing and live independently. It could also ultimately result in lower costs for the NHS, due to less need for hospital admissions and less time spent in hospital.

We’re excited about the opportunities this kind of technology creates to improve the quality of life and independence of people with dementia, but we’d like to know what you think. Would you be keen for your loved one to have this kind of remote support? Or do you find this kind of monitoring an invasion of privacy? Please let us know your thoughts and share your own ideas with us.