My colleagues and I are interested in how this kind of true smart home technology could help people with dementia. We hope it could learn to recognise the different domestic activities a dementia sufferer carries out throughout the day and help them with each one. This could even lead up to the introduction of household robots to automatically assist with chores.
The growing number of people with dementia is encouraging care providers to look to technology as a way of supporting human carers and improving patients’ quality of life. In particular, we want to use technology to help people with dementia live more independently for as long as possible.
Dementia affects people’s cognitive abilities (things like perception, learning, memory and problem-solving skills). There are many ways that smart home technology can help with this. It can improve safety by automatically closing doors if they are left open or turning off cookers if they are left unattended. Bed and chair sensors or wearable devices can detect how well someone is sleeping or if they have been inactive for an unusual amount of time.
People with dementia can also become disoriented, wander and get lost. Sophisticated monitoring systems using radiowaves inside and GPS outside can track people’s movements and raise an alert if they travel outside a certain area.
A finer model could then represent the steps in a particular activity such as washing hands or making a cup of tea. Monitoring what the person is doing step by step means that, if they forget halfway through, the system can remind them and help them continue.
The smart home of the future could also come equipped with a humanoid robot to help with chores. Research in this area is moving at a steady, albeit slow, pace, with Japan taking the lead with nurse robots.
The real smartness in all this technology comes from automatically discovering how the person interacts with their environment in order to provide support at the right moment. If we just built technology to do everything for people then it would actually reduced their independence.