Malta university team hope to help dementia sufferers with ‘wearable’ technology

A research team led by the University of Malta is trying to develop a way how to realise whether a person suffering of dementia has wandered away from their carers

A University of Malta study is seeking to develop a device to be worn by sufferers of dementia, which can track changes in movement that signal whether the person is lost.

Malta is home to over 5,300 people who in 2013 suffered from dementia, around 1.26% of the population.

Dementia affects memory and orientation, language and judgement, and by 2030 the condition is project to affect at least 9,880 people in Malta as its population grows and ages.

A research team led by the University of Malta says it can use PEM (pervasive electronic monitoring) to track people’s movements and recognise unusual behaviour – namely, learning if a person suffering of dementia has wandered away from their carers.

This wandering off is difficult to assess, and the reasons for the behaviour remain unclear: different individuals’ habits are personalised in some kind of pattern.

Team leader Conrad Attard told Think Magazine the research proposes a smart mobile technology tool that logs patients’ wandering patterns, and gathers the data to identify possible dangers, and give useful, real-time information to carers on their patients’ status.

“One of the most unfortunate side-effects of dementia is that sufferers are often stopped from walking about because of the risk of injury and fatality,” Attard explained. “Although ‘wandering’, as we call it, can be a positive thing, helping patients remain active, it requires someone to be with them constantly. But through a PEM system we could give a leap in the quality of life patients with dementia have.”

Currently in its early stages, researchers want to create a framework for a wearable or implanted device.

The real challenge is to anticipate any danger for such sufferers, by analysing the patterns of walking back and forward or zigzagging.

“Then it would be able to differentiate between when a patient is walking aimlessly and when they are walking with purpose. The device would also need to identity the possibility of danger for the patients in their surroundings.