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New high-tech socks monitor distress in people with dementia

SmartSock 920
Image: Milbotix Ltd

Socks containing sensors that monitor the distress of people with dementia will be used in UK care homes as part of new clinical research by ͯƵ. Carers will be alerted to any distress via a smartphone app, allowing them to respond to early signs of agitation before it escalates. 

This week is Dementia Awareness Week and shines a light on the UK's biggest killer, which accounted for more than one in 10 deaths last year.

“The majority of people living in care homes with dementia experience behavioural symptoms like agitation, which are often linked to distress and unmet needs,” said Dr Byron Creese, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at ͯƵ, who is leading the research.

“Distress due to treatable issues such as discomfort or pain can sometimes result in agitation or aggression because people are not able to communicate their needs, he added. “Effective and safe care for people with these symptoms is critical to maintaining the quality of life and overall care of people with dementia.”

Improved early recognition of distress may help to prevent it from escalating into agitation, and the study will investigate if technology can support carers in doing that.

The upcoming research will involve 30 people with dementia living in care homes in London and Exeter. For four weeks, the participants will continuously wear the new technological SmartSocks™, which detect distress, pain and anxiety to provide insights into the residents’ wellbeing.

A sensor fits into a plastic mould on the outside of the sock to measure parameters such as heart rate, skin temperature, sweat response and motion – how people are moving. Participants will be given multiple pairs of SmartSocks™, which can be washed as normal.

Sensor 618

                                                           (c) Milbotix Ltd

“As communication becomes more difficult for people with dementia, they may struggle to request help when they are in distress,” said Dr Creese.

“The symptoms of agitation, anxiety and stress can negatively impact the quality of life of dementia patients and people involved in their care, and we want to find out if the SmartSocks™ can help carers spot early signs of distress.”

Data collected from the SmartSocks™ alerts carers to distress via a smartphone app, allowing them to respond as they usually would to support the resident.

App

                    Smartphone app pages (c) Milbotix Ltd

As part of the research, a small group of care home staff will take part in an anonymous online survey and a virtual focus group to assess the impact of the socks and their suitability within the care home environment.

The surveys will take place during the second and final week of the research, and the focus group will happen at the end of the trial. The final results of the study are expected to be published early next year.

“The research will allow us to find out if the socks are helpful in managing distress, and we hope that in the future they will improve the quality of life of people living with dementia,” said Dr Creese. 

The concept of socks incorporating wearable technology to help care for people with dementia has been received positively by professional carers and the Alzheimer’s Society, who invested £96k to fund SmartSocks’ development.

 

Information video about the research and SmartSocks™

Reported by:

Nadine Palmer, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 267090
nadine.palmer@brunel.ac.uk