NHS turning to tech to help dementia sufferers live at home for longer

Groundbreaking trials across the UK will examine how technology can help modernise patient care and improve quality of life.

The NHS has teamed up with leading technology companies in a series of nationwide trials to study how connected devices may be able to benefit older patients and those suffering from dementia, diabetes and mental illness.

Different combinations of connected technology will be employed in seven areas across the UK, allowing patients to monitor their own conditions at home, instead of going into a home.

The projects are part of the first wave of NHS Innovation ‘Test Beds’, launched at the World Economic Forum.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens says technology will be at the forefront of health gains: “Over the next decade major health gains won’t just come from a few ‘miracle cures’, but also from combining diverse breakthroughs in fields such as biosensors, medtech and drug discovery, mobile communications, and AI computing.”

Each ‘Test Bed’ will investigate a local health issue using technology developed by a range of partners including: IBM, Philips and Verily (formally Google Life Sciences).

Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is researching how connected devices, such as sensors, wearables and monitors will give more control to dementia sufferers, allowing carers to monitor them remotely, and allowing them to live longer in their own homes.

Among the technology being trialled is Sense.ly, which includes a virtual personal assistant called Molly that can provide medical advice.

Intelesant’s Howz learns a dementia sufferer’s routine using heat, light and movement sensors that can be attached to devices such as a kettle or fridge. If it detects an anomaly that indicates a potential problem - for instance the person routinely turns on the kettle to make tea at 9am, then they suddenly start making it at 11am - it can send an alert to a carer or family member who can quickly investigate the problem.

Fiona Edwards, chief executive of Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, says it’s an opportunity to improve the quality of life for sufferers and their families:  “With a growing elderly population who are likely to experience long-term physical and mental health conditions, innovative new technologies such as those we are trialling through the Internet of Things project will help more people to receive the support they need to live well in their own homes.”

Old persons hand holding a phone

Elsewhere, in the West of England, wearable sensors, software and remote-monitoring devices will be supplied to diabetes sufferers to allow them to self-manage their condition.

In Birmingham those suffering from mental illness will be able to access online digital support, with risk assessment and crisis intervention plans and a link to a hub that dispatches specialist staff in the event of a serious problem.

In Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, health workers will use predictive technology to help those with long-term medical conditions. Analysing trends and patterns of conditions, such as lung diseases and heart failure, allows them to identify those who would benefit from tele-health, tele-care and tele-medicine technology, and provide extra support.

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Hilary Evans, chief executive of the UK’s leading dementia research charity Alzheimer’s Research UK said such trials are vital to understand whether new technology can impact people’s lives. “For people to benefit from scientific advances being made, it’s important that our healthcare system is able to adopt cost-effective new treatments and technologies quickly.  The NHS ‘Test Bed’ programme could be vital for understanding which innovations should be taken forward.”

In the future successful innovations from the trials will be available for the rest of the country to use.


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