Can technology help defuse the dementia time bomb?

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1. Losing your identity

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing. It is an umbrella term for the symptoms of around 100 different brain diseases, that cause problems with memory, language skills, mental agility, understanding and judgement. Alzheimer's is the most common, accounting for nearly two-thirds of cases.

44 million people worldwide now have dementia, and this figure is expected to triple by 2050, as the global population ages. In the UK alone, dementia currently affects more than 800,000 people, with the annual cost of care per person greater than the average salary.

Although some medical treatments do slow the progression of some types of dementia, there is currently no cure. Round-the-clock help is often needed, but for many a live-in carer is not practical or affordable. So scientists have started to look at ways that technology can support people with dementia and help them live independently for as long as possible.

2. A growing global problem

Cases of dementia across the world are predicted to increase dramatically

Data source: 'The Global Impact of Dementia 2013–2050', Alzheimer’s Disease International (December 2013).

Over the next few decades, cases of dementia across the world are predicted to increase dramatically, as the global population ages.

3. How people live with dementia today

Dementia affects everyone in different ways.

Dementia sufferers often struggle to remember recent events, follow conversations or find the right word for something.

They may forget names, repeat themselves, and can become confused about date and time. For example, they may wake in the middle of the night and get dressed, ready for the next day.

As dementia progresses, the person's behaviour may change, in a way that seems unusual or out of character. They may start asking questions repetitively, pacing, and having changes in appetite or disturbed sleep patterns.

In later stages, the person may have physical symptoms including weight loss and muscle weakness.

Life for dementia carers

Over 40% of the UK population know a close friend or family member with dementia, and although a third of people with dementia live in a care home, that leaves two thirds being cared for independently.

Live-in help is expensive, so many have informal care, allowing them to live in their own home for longer. Family carers of people with dementia save the UK over £8 billion a year.

For the carers it can be rewarding - but it can also be demanding and life-changing. Some burn out, or run into financial problems caused by the costs of caring or having to give up work.

4. How a 'smart house' can help

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Existing dementia aids operate independently instead of providing a linked up system of care, and do not solve problems of mobility or loneliness. Major advances in robotic technology, combined with advances in digital communications offer new ways for people suffering from dementia to have a better quality of life.

5. What would you choose?

Artificial intelligence will play a key role in assisting people with dementia. Which of these would you want to use if you were in that position?

Integrated Smart Home

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Integrated Smart Home

Including smart sensors, optical recognition units and automation elements to detect eating, drinking and activity patterns, and dangerous situations.

Home care robots

Image ©Getty Images

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Home care robots

Embody 'kindness' and 'intelligence', help with activities and act as a social companion. Relatives can connect to the robot to check on the dementia sufferer.

Therapeutic robots

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Therapeutic robots

Designed to stimulate the minds of patients with dementia and also provide emotional support, some models are gaining popularity in Japan.