Irish tech device to track wandering dementia sufferers

The causes for wandering include confusion, boredom, restlessness, or even habit.

Irish technology experts are working on a device that can track wandering dementia sufferers.

Researchers at the Telecommunications, Software, and Systems Group (TSSG), at Waterford Institute of Technology, have linked up with partners in Belgium, Switzerland, and Portugal on the initiative. It will increase the survival rates of “wandering patients” and reduce the stress of caregivers.

Carelink — carelink-aal.org — is a 30-month, €2.5m project, funded under the European Commission’s Active and Assisted Living programme.

The acting director of research at TSSG, Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, said that while tracking dementia patients who wander has always been a challenge, they are combining the internet of things with artificial intelligence to “further improve the tracking of dementia patients in a low-cost manner”.

There are 55,000 dementia sufferers in Ireland and, according to TSSG project co-ordinator Gary McManus, wandering is common among them.

“There can be many causes of wandering, including confusion, boredom, restlessness, or even out of habit,” he said. “Whatever the cause, it can be extremely stressful, for both patients and their carers, and the outcomes can be very serious, and, in some cases, fatal.”

Mr McManus said the Carelink solution aims to improve quality of life for dementia patients and their carers, through the creation of “an intelligent location-monitoring system”, customised to individual needs.

Mr McManus previously worked on Inspiration, an initiative that built an app to “inspire” elderly people to develop a healthier lifestyle, including physical activity, better diet, and social engagement.

According to researchers, initial training courses will focus on the wandering aspect of dementia, dealing with the risks involved and recommendations for spotting or dealing with it.

The Carelink team will design an innovative, wearable device for dementia patients at various stages of the disease.

Belgium-based design experts U-Sentric will engage with carers and patients throughout the design and prototyping stages of this device to work towards a solution that users are happy to wear both day and night.

Meanwhile, Uninova in Portugal will develop a “wireless sensor suite” to provide “proximity and location” information relating to the device, on a low-cost, energy-efficient basis, and the TSSG will develop a cloud-based system to enable carers to monitor the location of patients.

“Carers require customisable, low-cost methods for remotely monitoring the location and proximity of patients,” said commercialisation specialist Christine O’Meara. “Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, strict rules on data-protection and access will be abided to always.”


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