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Smart sock checks people with dementia
- August 29, 2023
- Steve Rogerson
Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) have developed a sock that combines sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) to help care staff detect agitation and prevent falls in people with dementia.
The research led by the UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre at ICL is being trialled to support people living with dementia to live in their own homes for as long as possible.
The smart socks can track heart rate, sweat levels and motion to give insight into the wearer’s wellbeing, providing accurate insight into a person’s cognitive state and distress levels. To the wearer, they look and feel like normal socks, do not need charging and are machine washable.
One of the challenges facing research with people with dementia is that wearable technologies are mostly worn on wrist straps. For those with dementia this can cause more stress and can be removed by patients during research. Therefore, these socks could provide a minimally invasive way to detect people’s cognitive state.
“I’m really excited about this project, which has the potential to transform care for people affected by dementia,” said Shlomi Haar, emerging leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research & Technology Centre. “As a world leading centre in developing smart homes for dementia, we tried multiple wearable devices but we find the technology is not always suitable or comfortable for people to wear for extended periods. This incredibly innovative technology should resolve this issue, since the socks look and feel exactly like normal socks. Combining the socks with our existing technology will greatly expand our capabilities to monitor, understand and anticipate the needs of people living with dementia, and support them to remain safely within their own homes for longer, while also reducing the burden on carers.”
Care technology start-up Milbotix, which has developed the smart socks, partnered with the team at ICL to test the technology. In this study, the team will first test the smart socks in the living lab, a domestic environment where they study activities of daily living and develop technologies before they can be tested at home. The socks will then be tested in the homes of 15 people living with dementia to observe if they detect distress and agitation in the wearer.
The UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre is already piloting technology that monitors sleep, movement around the home, and physiological measurements such as temperature and blood pressure. A central computer called Minder then connects these measurements to a dashboard, enabling clinicians to monitor people living with dementia remotely.
Using this technology, the team aims to detect problems early, reduce avoidable hospitalisations and empower people living with dementia to remain independent within their own homes for longer.
With the addition of the smart socks, researchers can remotely detect when a person’s cognitive state changes, which is not possible with the existing devices.
Smart sock inventor Zeke Steer, CEO of Milbotix, came up with the concept after witnessing his great grandmother’s dementia journey, during which she became aggressive and anxious. Desperate to help progress care, Steer gave up his job in the defence industry to take up a PhD in robotics, where he developed an interest around wearable technologies.
“I came up with the idea for smart socks while volunteering in a dementia care home,” said Steer. “The current product is the result of extensive research, consultation and development. So far, our product has been incredibly well-received in care settings, and I’m excited to see what impact our products can have in providing early alerts of agitation and falls, alerting care home staff to take early intervention, and also in supporting people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.”
He said the foot was actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks were a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day.
“Our research shows that the socks can accurately recognise signs of stress, which could really help not just those with dementia, but their carers too,” said Steer.
In another project, Milbotix (milbotix.com) will be working with a team at the University of Exeter to test whether smart socks can support staff working in care homes to support people who may not be able to communicate about their agitation levels, or the cause of distress.
Read more about the research at www.imperial.ac.uk/uk-dri-care-research-technology.