Irish researchers seeking to develop ‘tracker’ for dementia sufferers

Wandering among patients ‘can be very serious, and in some cases fatal’

There are about 55,000 dementia sufferers in Ireland at the moment. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are about 55,000 dementia sufferers in Ireland at the moment. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

A Waterford-based research team has secured funding to develop a “low cost” technological tool to help track dementia patients whose safety is put at risk by wandering from care settings.

Researchers at the Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology have linked up with partners in Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal to work on the initiative which they say will increase the survival rates of “wandering patients” and reduce stress for caregivers.

Carelink — carelink-aal.org — is a 30-month, €2.5 million project funded under the European Commission’s Active and Assisted Living programme, in the “Living With Dementia” category.

Acting director of research at TSSG, Dr Sasitharan Balasubramaniam said they were seeking to “further improve the tracking of dementia patients [who tend to wander] in a low-cost manner”.

There are about 55,000 dementia sufferers in Ireland at the moment and, according to TSSG project co-ordinator Gary McManus, wandering is a common occurrence among sufferers.

“There can be many causes of wandering, including confusion, boredom, restlessness or even out of habit,” he said.

“Whatever the cause, it can be extremely stressful for both patients and their carers and the outcomes can be very serious, and in some cases fatal.”

Mr McManus said the Carelink solution aims to improve quality of life for dementia patients and their carers through the creation of “an intelligent location monitoring system” customised in each case to meet their needs.

The project leader previously worked on Inspiration, an initiative which built an app to “inspire” elderly people to develop a healthier lifestyle including physical activity, better eating habits and social engagement.

According to the researchers, initial training courses will focus on the wandering aspect of dementia, dealing with the risks involved and recommendations for spotting or dealing with wandering.

“Carers require customisable, low cost methods for remotely monitoring the location and proximity of patients,” Christine O’Meara of TSSG said.

“Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, strict rules on data protection and access will be abided to always.”