According to Alzhemer Europe, at least 5.7 million Europeans between the ages of 40 and 80 suffer from dementia or Parkinson’s disease. For them, despite on-going research, there is still no cure.
70% of patients with advanced dementia receive care in nursing homes and specialized centres. But as our society ages it is expected that 10 million new cases of dementia and Parkinson’s will be diagnosed in the next 40 years. This makes it increasingly important for scientists to find technologies to help people living with these diseases.
The first part of the Rosetta Project, near Frankfurt in Germany, aims to develop assisted and intelligent environments, able to raise the alarm if the inhabitants’ behaviour changes drastically. One development is the Early Detection System, which raises an alarm if a person’s actions are potentially dangerous.
This technology can also be used in nursing homes. It does not completely invade a person’s privacy because it does not record pictures or sounds, but simply tracks and analyses a person’s position in their home.
Elizabeth Athmer-Aghina, a retired teacher, is still living living at home although she is 85 and has Parkinson’s Disease. She stays in daily contact with her grandchildren via the web. Sensors around her home track her behaviour and send data to a remote centre, which makes her feel less vulnerable. She said, “Once I lay on the floor next to my bed for 3 hours, but now I feel safer. I am not afraid, wondering how long I would have to lie there if I fell over again. Someone would arrive immediately if the alarm went off. So I don’t feel alone any more.”
Another technology, called Unattended Autonomous Surveillance (UAS), developed in Holland, is being tested in homes in Soest. Thanks to the system, people living with dementia can help themselves, can continue living independently and taking care of some of their own daily needs. This has a postive effect on the general mood.
A third technology is being developed to help carers. Using a touch screen can help people with dementia maintain memory, remember some easy tasks, and comunicate with others in a simple and direct way. Albert’s wife has Alzheimer’s Disease. He said, “When the system wants her to have breakfast or to have lunch, there an alarm sounds and then she sees lunch as a pictogram of sauce or bread on it. So she knows: oh, I have to take my lunch. When the system is in my house she won’t be alone at all, you need somebody with her. Even the house we are living in for a long time, she doesn’t know the house when she’s totally alone she got lost. This system now, structured it, give some safety, gives her some feeling of “I’m not alone”.
Research is still going on. The trial period runs until 2012, and then testing will start in 2011 in three different European countries. 30 houses will be equipped with sensor systems and assisted technologies, governed by an unique remote server.
In the future, intelligent houses like these could be integrated with services like tele-medicine, meaning that people with dementia could live independent lives for longer.