Dementia is a term that describes a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain. These symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions, the most common of these is Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells. Common symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty remembering routes and becoming confused in unfamiliar places.
Smart.Dementia.Wales is a research project (Ph.D Computing) that seeks to assist persons who are prone to ‘walk about’ .
The research study underway at the University of South Wales, UK aims to develop novel technology with an overriding objective to assist people to ‘live well with dementia’ and preserve independence for as long as possible.
Smart-phones, -homes and wearable computers will work together to provide an intelligent and unobtrusive monitoring system and effectively keep checks on a person without ‘tagging’ or invasively tracking their every movement.
The ethics of using technology in tracking individuals who are potentially vulnerable has been debated considerably; many support the use of technology to allow safer-walking, others see it as an invasion of human rights.
“Surveillance may confer control” said one study, there are questions regarding who will decide when the person with symptoms is sufficiently impaired to “warrant such control”. The debate possibly originates from Orwellian prediction of repression and social control in his book ‘1984’.
This debate continues, but there is recent evidence that utilisation of technology is justified as it is for the greater good of both patient and the family carer. It has been said that in relation to dementia, the dilemma is this: Where is the greater breach of rights? Is it a locked door resulting in the loss of liberty or is it monitored autonomous movement using technology that can lead to loss of privacy? Cognitively intact older people conclude that they favoured the latter. In another study, little objection was found by the actual users of the technology, but the alternative of moving to a nursing home is used to possibly explain this.
From the academic point of view, the main contribution will be the design and implementation of autonomous algorithms acting like an agent on smart-devices. This means that smart-devices will make decisions without sharing information publically. The context of activity is used to assess risks to the person living with dementia, when behaviour is deemed to be anomalous it is thought that the ethical argument changes, an appropriate message (including location, circumstance and recent history) will be transmitted to a designated recipient.