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Cels supports KITE project to counter dementia problems

CELS : 23 April, 2008  (Company News)
Cels has helped to facilitate an innovative project that aims to counter social and practical problems caused by dementia has launched two state-of-the-art prototypes.
The Keeping In Touch Everyday (KITE) project is developing technology that allows people with dementia (PWD) to undertake their normal day to day activities, with the reassurance that help can be sought should it be required. In addition, with the approval of the person with dementia, their family or carer can remotely locate them, should the need arise.

The latest protoptyes are designed to assist people in the milder stages of dementia to cope with disorientation when undertaking normal day-to-day activities, such as walking or shopping. Focus groups, held with PWD, revealed that their key desires when disorientation occurred were to be able to help themselves, but also to be able to request help as a last resort. Through such an approach there is a clear objective to enable PWD to maintain or reclaim a sense of independence. As the project was aiming to deliver personalised solutions, two specific prototype applications were delivered for two selected participants, The Runner and The Driver, each focusing on the particular needs of these individuals.

The first device is designed for a person with dementia who still enjoys running, and is worn as an armband. The device is intended not be obtrusive to the user and could easily be mistaken for an mp3 holder or something similar. The device has a chip in it, which is linked to the mobile phone of the runner’s carer. This allows the runner’s carer to track where he is going, in a similar fashion to a satallite navigation system. The carer is able to know where the runner is the whole time he is away, and should the runner lose his way he can activate a ‘panic button,’ and the carer can locate and assist him.

Patrick Oliver, whose research team at Newcastle University has developed the prototypes, commented: “The person we modelled the device for was comfortable with the concept of wearing something which resembled the apparel worn by runners as he was one himself. By giving the device the look and feel of something like an MP3 player in an armband, we aimed to make it so that he would not think twice about putting it on; it becomes a part of his routine when he leaves the house to go jogging. The device gives both him and his wife peace of mind so he can enjoy his freedom and independence and neither of them need be concerned about the possibility of him losing his way.”

The second prototype is tailored for the needs of someone with dementia who uses a car to get about and enjoys the independence and freedom of driving on her own. She makes sure she always carries her leather notebook with her, which she uses to write notes and shopping lists and other information in.

Following discussions with the individual, it was decided to embed the device into her notebook. The technology embedded in both prototypes sends signals to a nominated carer so, should the need arise they can find out where the individuals are.

The KITE project was established to enable a collaborative approach between academics, clinicians, social services and regional Small to Medium Enterprise (SMEs). The core KITE project team includes computer scientists and designers from Newcastle University, a social gerontologist from Newcastle Institute of Health and Society, a general practitioner based in the Institute of Health and Society and Cels project management and business support.

The core team worked with SMEs to ensure that existing knowledge and technical capability was exploited.

One such company was Tynetec, whose technology was used in order to facilitate home monitoring. Another company Track-a-phone provided advice and direction with regards GPS and GPRS/GSM tracking and location and facilitated early testing through their equipment and services. Finally, Circuitree, a local business exploring innovative applications of GPS technology also provided advice and input. In addition, input was sought from social services and the NHS.

The prototype system that has been produced is a device utilising GSM/GPS technology encased in silicone with a single button for emergency signals and LED’s to signal if the device is switched on or sending an alarm. The device constantly reports the location of the user to a central web-server which, when queried, will send the last known location for the device out to a mobile phone or PC, with a link to a map of their location.

KITE have worked closely with PWD and their carers through several focus groups and workshops, facilitated by experts within Newcastle University, to ensure the new technology meets their needs. The ability to reassure their carers and relieve stress and concerns about their location was of high importance to PWD.

Cels supported the project through their Assistive Technology Lab (ATL) which is focused on bringing to market technology to aid an ageing population.

Caroline Findlay, project manager at Cels commented: “Initiatives such as KITE are vitally important to the region and to society as a whole, because they address the needs of an increasingly ageing population. Over the last 5 decades there has been a 45 percent increase in the number of people aged 50 and over, and this is expected to rise by a further 36 percent by 2031. Dementia is a very real issue and advances in technology can really help those who live with it.”

“The financial cost of caring for people with dementia is placed annually at £4.6 billion pounds. In addition to the major financial burden, there are the strains for those who care for PWD, such as requirements on time and the unprecedented stresses of their work and responsibilities.”

Ken Clasper, local campaigner for PWD and member of the Alzheimer’s Society commented on the prototypes after attending a recent event where they were demonstrated: “At present I am still able to use a mobile phone, but I know that eventually this will have to give way to some other type of technology and I do feel that these devices may be the answer to a lot of problems like this. These devices will allow us to have our freedom while at the same time give our carers a method of keeping in contact with us where ever we are. It also gives them a method of seeing where we are if we get lost.”
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