New research using ‘smart’ socks could transform dementia care
A sock which combines sensors with artificial intelligence could help care staff detect agitation and prevent falls in people with dementia.
The research led by the UK DRI Care Research and Technology Centre at Imperial College London, is one of the ‘smart home’ technologies being trialled to support people living with dementia to live in their own homes for as long as possible.
The innovative ‘SmartSocks’ 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 currently facing research with people with dementia is that wearable technologies are mostly worn on wrist straps. For those living 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.
Dr Shlomi Haar, Emerging Leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research & Technology Centre and Department of Brain Sciences, said: “I’m really excited about this project, which has the potential to transform care for people affected by dementia. 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, whilst also reducing the burden on carers.”
Care technology startup Milbotix who have developed the SmartSocks have partnered with the team at Imperial to test the technology. In this study the team will first test the SmartSocks 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 the socks detect distress and agitation in the wearer.
The UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre at Imperial College London is already piloting technology that monitors sleep, movement around the home, and physiological measurements such as temperature and blood pressure. A centralised computer platform called ‘Minder’ then connects these measurements to a dashboard, enabling clinicians to remotely monitor people living with dementia. Using this technology, the team aims to be able to detect problems early, reduce avoidable hospitalisations and ultimately empower people living with dementia to remain independent within their own homes for longer.
With the addition of the SmartSocks, researchers will be able to remotely detect when a person’s cognitive state changes, which is not possible with the existing devices.
SmartSock inventor Dr Zeke Steer, Chief Executive Officer of care-tech start-up company 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, Dr 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 SmartSocks while volunteering in a dementia care home. 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.”
Dr Steer said: “The foot is actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks are 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.”
In another project, Milbotix will be working with a team at the University of Exeter to test whether SmartSocks 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.
This article has been adapted from a news story by the UK Dementia Research Institute.
This research is funded by Innovate UK.