Leo Spalteholz

Leo Spalteholz

Researchers seek dementia patients to test new technology for caregivers

Researchers at UVic have developed new technologies to allow caregivers to watch over people with dementia.

Researchers at the University of Victoria have developed new technologies to allow caregivers to watch over people with dementia more efficiently and effectively.

The two devices were created as a result of a number of focus groups led by CanAssist (which develops assistive technologies) earlier this year with caregivers, professional caregivers and industry professional. The devices are meant to address the tipping points for caregivers who were burnt out or so anxious they put parents into homes.

The first device is the Wandering Redirect System aimed at redirecting people with dementia from going outside. According to Leo Spalteholz, engineering manager with CanAssist, people with dementia often get confused with daytime and nighttime and as a result, they become more active in the evening and at night, then want to go outside.

The tablet-sized device can be installed on the inside of the front door and can detect when there’s motion in front of it. The device will redirect people using personalized text or video messages from caregivers telling them not to leave the house, saying things such as “It’s nighttime, all the shops are closed right now. It’s not a good time to go out” or “Hi mom, it’s a bad time to go out. If you need anything call me.”

During the day, the system can also be used as a highly-simplified schedule, can show and read the date, and a simple summary of appointments and events that day.

The second device is the phone-in monitoring system that allows caregivers to remain in contact with patients with dementia even when they don’t answer the phone.

The box hooks up to a telephone line and allows caregivers to phone in when they’re not at home to get a summary of what’s going on in the house, including things like “the last activity was in the kitchen five minutes ago” and “the bed was last occupied at 8:30 this morning.”

It records conversations in case people at home forget to take messages. Caregivers can also intercom themselves into the home and speak directly to them without them having to answer the phone.

According to the Centre on Aging, in 2011, family caregivers devoted 440 million unpaid hours of service across the country.

“A lot of this caregiving falls on families and people make do and it’s great because they know the individuals the best,” said Spalteholz. “The issue is when caregivers burn out then situations deteriorate very rapidly and often it falls on the system. It’s something that if we can support caregivers to make sure they can effectively care for those people then it can keep people from being forced into care.”

There are currently four wandering redirect systems in the field and three phone-in monitoring systems being used in people’s homes. Researchers hope to get 15 families testing each prototype device.

The technology and installation is free to families with dementia. In return, they will be asked to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the technology so researchers can gather data on who the devices are effective for and improvements that can be made.