Irish team with two Tipperary experts heads up landmark dementia care project

Dementia is on the rise, with approximately 55,000 sufferers in Ireland.

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Technology experts from Tipperary who are working at one of Ireland’s leading research and innovation centres have teamed up with partners in Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal and are the overall coordinators of a ground-breaking, practical and pragmatic project with potentially life-changing impacts for dementia sufferers and their carers.

Carelink will reduce stress for caregivers, dramatically increase the survival rates of wandering patients and will promote low-cost, community-based caring into the future, experts at the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) say.

It’s a 30 month, €2.5 million project funded under the European Commission’s Active and Assisted Living (AAL) programme’s 2016 call for proposals under the heading ‘Living with Dementia’.

Dementia is on the rise, with approximately 55,000 sufferers in Ireland. Wandering is a common occurrence among people with dementia, with more than 60% tending to wander, project coordinator and leader Gary McManus from TSSG at WIT reveals.

Fethard’s Gary is working on the project along with Christine O'Meara from Carrig, near Birr, in North Tipperary.

Christine O'Meara.

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

“The Carelink solution aims to improve wandering outcomes and quality of life for dementia patients and their carer through the creation of an intelligent location monitoring system which is uniquely customised to meet the needs of dementia patients as well as the carer,” Gary continues.

Carelink will deliver three main innovations that will revolutionise the personal tracking industry, particularly focusing on dementia sufferers as well as providing a second track which focuses on information sharing and training for the community.

Firstly, the Carelink team will design an innovative, wearable device for dementia patients at various stages of the disease. The device will be suitable for their needs as well as the needs of their carer. Belgium-based human-centric design experts U-Sentric will engage with end user selected primary carers and patients throughout the design and prototyping stages of this wearable, to work towards a solution that ensures end-users are happy to wear both day and night.

The second main innovation will see the Carelink team develop a wireless sensor suite so that it can provide proximity and location information for the wearer that is low cost, robust and energy efficient. UNINOVA in Portugal will develop a wireless sensor pack that will meet these requirements.

The TSSG team will design and develop a cloud-based platform to support personalised connected solutions to enable carers to monitor the proximity and location of patients and interact with the system remotely, commercialisation specialist Christine O’Meara from County Tipperary highlights.

“Carers require customisable, low cost methods for remotely monitoring the location and proximity of patients,” she explains.

“TSSG will develop a cloud-hosted system along with a suite of interfaces that can be used to develop apps and services for the carers and patients interacting with the wireless sensor suite. TSSG will also develop intelligent behaviour profiling algorithms to ensure appropriate energy management policies are adhered to by the patients wearables at all times. Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, strict rules on data protection and access will be abided to always,” she adds.

The project is funded in conjunction with the national funding bodies Enterprise Ireland, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Portugal), Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER (Switzerland), and IWT agentschap voor Innovatie door Wetenschap en Technologie (Belgium). AAL sees ICT experts across the globe work on ageing well initiatives for our population.

Carelink-AAL includes a team of researchers, innovators and business people from across Europe, all of whom are committed to delivering a low-cost, location and proximity monitoring system suitable for dementia sufferers.

Christine has previous experience in the health sector and worked on Inspiration, which built an app to 'Inspire' elderly people to a healthier lifestyle through prompting towards physical activity, better eating habits and social engagement.