How Amazon and Google can help dementia patients
July 11, 2018
Smart virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home should be developed in co-operation with dementia patients, carers and the National Health Service (NHS), according to the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
A study from the organisation says well-designed virtual tools can help older people stay in their homes for longer.
Developing virtual assistant technologies, such as Amazon Echo, should involve dementia sufferers, their carers and the NHS so that these tools can help people to stay in their homes for longer, according to the study.
With the number of dementia sufferers in the UK set to double by 2040, these technologies are becoming increasingly important as the range of help they can offer expands and the need for support threatens to overwhelm purely human-provided help. However, there has been little research into the development and systematic deployment of these tools to support patients and their carers.
In the report, the institution calls for a regulatory framework to improve the robustness of research and the speed of clinical testing of what it calls intelligent assistive technologies (IATs). These IATs include voice control of communication devices such as phones and safety monitors that can remind patients to take medication and find people who have become lost by using exit sensors and GPS trackers.
“The introduction of these technologies to support dementia patients and their carers poses some significantly different and potentially unique challenges compared with other healthcare technologies,” said Graham Isaac, institution member and visiting professor at the University of Leeds, who led the development of this report.
The report builds on the healthy homes study released by the institution earlier this year into how the use of technology and innovation in smart homes will be the key to enabling people to be more active and stay in their homes for longer.
“The technologies need to be compatible with a wide range of symptoms and must be adaptable as the condition will inevitably progress over time,” said Helen Meese, trustee of the institution and medical technology consultant.
The report recommends that a dementia technology advisory board be set up by 2019 to define and oversee the specification, development and introduction of ethically sound and effective technology. The advisory board should focus on the following activities:
- Promote investment in healthcare infrastructure systems to ensure compatibility with IATs, ensuring both social benefits and cost savings.
- Ensure designers and engineers involve all stakeholders in the development of appropriate devices including patients, carers, hospitals and care homes.
- Investigate and clarify the ethical dimensions of these devices and ensure these issues are addressed in the early stage of product development.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was established in 1847 and is one of the fastest growing professional engineering institutions. Headquartered in London, it has operations around the world and over 120,000 members in more than 140 countries working in automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction industries.