everythingpossible - Fotolia

Surrey and Borders NHS Trust launches IoT trial for dementia patients

A major trial of IoT technology in the homes of vulnerable dementia patients could pave the way for a revolution in how elderly care is delivered in the NHS

Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is recruiting 1,400 volunteers to take place in a major trial exploring how applying internet of things (IoT) technology could help improve the quality of life for people suffering from dementia, as well as that of their carers.

The trust has enlisted the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), Royal Holloway University of London, the Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network, six NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups located in Surrey and north-east Hampshire, a number of IoT startups and the Alzheimer’s Society to run its Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM) for dementia programme.

“The reason for us coming together is to improve the health of people with dementia and keep them healthy for as long as possible,” said Surrey and Borders director of innovation and development, Helen Rostill.

There are around 850,000 dementia sufferers in the UK, representing a £26bn annual cost to the health and social care sector. In the area covered by Surrey and Borders, there are thought to be just under 19,000 patients, of whom 55% go into hospital at least once a year, 20% of them for avoidable conditions, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The programme, which will run over the next 12 months, will see the homes of 350 dementia sufferers – another 350 will take part in a control group and the other 700 participants will be carers – outfitted with IoT devices, including sensors, apps and trackers, which will build up a detailed picture of a person’s health and behaviour.

By monitoring aspects of general health, such as vital signs, blood pressure and body temperature, clinicians can get early warning of when something is out of the ordinary that may indicate an oncoming addressable health issue.

By monitoring movement and general activity – such as the opening and closing of a door, or the boiling of a kettle – and applying data analytics and machine learning techniques to the data generated, clinicians can begin to understand what constitutes a normal behaviour pattern for each individual.

The ultimate aim is to keep vulnerable elderly people in their own homes and out of hospital for as long as possible.

Read more about innovation in health and social care

“We know that people with dementia do not respond well to being in hospital and that their symptoms can worsen in this environment, so it is much better if we can treat them before they need to be admitted to hospital,” said Surrey and Borders leading dementia specialist, Ramin Nilforooshan.

Other products involved in the trial will include portable GPS trackers, fall detectors and panic buttons, which are designed to give caregivers peace of mind that their relative is safe and well, and allow them a small measure of freedom from having to be present and alert 24/7.

“Using technology to understand patterns of behaviour and health signatures, and recognise if people are deviating from those typical patterns and intervene, is an opportunity to be really targeted in how we deliver care at the point of need,” said Rostill.

Trusting technology in the NHS

Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Society will be recruiting 150 volunteers to support the families that will participate in the TIHM research project, and will also provide its Dementia Navigators to act as a single point of contact for participants to help them understand the technology.

Kathryn Smyth, director of operations at the charity, said: “Dementia makes aspects of day-to-day life more difficult for the person living with the condition, and in some cases it may also put them at risk.

“Our Dementia Navigators and volunteers will be instrumental in helping those taking part in the project get to grips with the technology, which can provide help and support to remain independent, safe and socially involved,” she said.

Rostill told Computer Weekly that the trials would provide a concrete demonstration to NHS staff of how IoT technology can augment their jobs in the future, and help to allay fears that doctors and nurses will lose their jobs to robots.

“There is a big cultural challenge in the NHS to get people to trust technology and incorporate it into their working practices,” she said.

The trial will also provide important data to 5GIC at the University of Surrey, which has been working on developing the underlying networking technology to support future 5G networks for more than a year.

5GIC director Rahim Tafazolli said when the centre opened – with support from suppliers BT and Huawei – it was clear that, because the world is so rapidly digitising, it needed to focus both on the design of a mobile broadband standard, and the applications of the technology to society and the economy.

“Once the test-bed is set up and running, we want to use the project as a pilot to look at personalised medicine around the world,” said Tafazolli.

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)