New technologies can help people with dementia

Advances in technology offer promising new ways to improve diagnosis, care and quality of life for people living with dementia and their families. Dr. Alex Mihailidis, a bioengineer at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, is developing smart devices such as the talking bathroom*. It has sensors to detect when someone has not turned off the tap or forgotten soap, and can then trigger a gentle voice to prompt the person. His team is also testing an interactive robot, Ed,* which can shadow a person with dementia into the kitchen and give voice prompts to help with daily tasks, such as making a cup of tea.

Smart shoes for safe tracking

New locator devices, such as SmartSoles (smart shoe insoles that use GPS technology) can provide people living with dementia more freedom to walk safely, while reducing caregiver anxiety and stress, according to CADTH, a Canadian health technology assessment organization.

Ryerson University in Toronto is also building a predictive system that uses sensors to detect subtle biological signs of agitation* in people with dementia. If a person’s agitation can be detected early, a family member or caregiver can calm and reassure the person before symptoms worsen.

New diagnostic tools

University of Waterloo researchers have developed a new type of non-invasive eye scan that detects amyloid deposits, a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease, well before patients experience symptoms. McGill University researchers have invented a computerized technique, known as SNIPE, that captures patterns of brain atrophy characteristic of dementia by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. SNIPE can distinguish normal aging from Alzheimer’s disease with 93% accuracy.*

University of Toronto researchers created a new, tablet-based assessment tool that records short samples of a person’s speech and uses artificial intelligence to analyze variables—such as pitch, tone, rhythm, rate of speech and word choice—to reliably identify Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. Early and accurate diagnosis with these new technologies could help a person with dementia to receive appropriate care and existing drug treatments sooner, when the medications are likely to be more effective, and the benefits may be even greater in future as better drugs are developed

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*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. Alzheimer Society. Online: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Research/Alzheimer-Society-Research-Program/past-ASRP-recipients/Researcher-profiles/Alex-Mihailidis
  2. Canada's Drug and Health Technology Agency. "GPS Locator Devices People Dementia", Online: https://www.cadth.ca/dv/gps-locator-devices-people-dementia
  3. Toronto Metropolitan University. Online: http://www.ryerson.ca/nursing/faculty/bios/newman2/
  4. University of Waterloo. "Waterloo Researchers Unveil New Data and Diagnostic Tool", Online: https://uwaterloo.ca/news/news/waterloo-researchers-unveil-new-data-and-diagnostic-tool
  5. McGill. "Technology has unprecedented ability to detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s" (2013), Online: https://www.mcgill.ca/channels-contribute/channels/news/technology-has-unprecedented-ability-detect-and-diagnose-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-224830
  6. Canadian Healthcare Technology. "Device detects and assesses Alzheimer’s" (2016), Online: http://www.canhealth.com/blog/device-detects-and-assesses-alzheimers/