We live in an aging society where, for the first time, the senior population is close to outnumber the younger population worldwide. This leads to a growth in the amount of age-related difficulties and health conditions, overwhelming health and social care services. Due to these facts, many nations turned their attention to technology in order to create solutions that could assist this older population into a more autonomous living style, providing greater quality of life and promoting aging in place.
Dementia is one of the conditions that older people are more susceptible of contracting, with a new case developing every 7 seconds worldwide. It is actually not a condition per se but a syndrome, a group of signs and symptoms, associated with a progressive loss of cognitive ability. Its most common form is Alzheimer’s disease which, by itself, accounts for 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s most common symptom pattern begins with a gradually worsening difficulty in remembering new information. Right from its early stages, the disease may lead to a person becoming confused, lost in familiar places, misplacing things or even having trouble with language. Later on, one of the most concerning symptoms of the disease may occur, wandering. Wandering consists of an aimless and disoriented walk which can become dangerous by increasing the possibility of accidents, getting lost, serious injuries or even death. Being a progressive disease, the need for care becomes more assiduous as the disease progresses and although the majority of caregivers live close to their patient, some are considered long-distance caregivers, living over an hour away making the task of constantly monitoring the actions of the patient extremely difficult.
In this project, a functional prototype that provides older adults and persons with dementia, as well as their caregivers, with a greater sense of safety whenever they go outdoors, was developed. It achieves this goal by monitoring their location and making sure that they remain within a safe perimeter. Whenever they stray from their safe zone, they are alerted to this circumstance and can choose to call for help or be navigated back to a safe place. Caregivers are also automatically alerted of the situation, and of their cared-for’s location, so that they can take action if necessary.
For this application to be useful it needed to be usable, so interfaces and workflows of the prototype were designed with the target group’s specific needs and limitations in mind, and according to the existent guidelines on the subject. A real time navigational interface was also developed specifically for this user group, and promising results were obtained.
Author: Ricardo Moutinho
Type: MSc thesis
Partner: Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto