Of the 4.5 million Americans living with Alzheimers disease today, 70 percent of them live at home and are cared for primarily by family and friends. The exploration of "technology that can be used to save costs associated with institutional care, ease caregiver anxiety and help those with Alzheimers improve their daily living" is the primary goal of the consortium that awarded the grants, said William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimers Association.
Several of this years grant winners focused on helping Alzheimers patients complete everyday activities through reminders and monitoring. For those with early-stage disease, this could help them to maintain a more safe, yet independent, lifestyle. Other research projects are working to enhance tools for caregivers, by adapting the Internet and monitoring systems to be more compatible with their needs.
The Alzheimers Association and Intel last year founded the ETAC (Everyday Technologies for Alzheimer Care) consortium. This years five awardees, selected from more than 40 applicants, are entitled to as much as $200,000 in research expenses over the next three years. To support research into the disease, the Alzheimers Association has granted a total of more than $165 million to nearly 1,400 projects to date.
All of the grants went toward innovative applications of commercially available technologies. "If you need to design a new chip or a new circuit, this isnt the right program for you," Thies said.
"If the technology is common, people are more likely to use it," he said. "Where we can keep people in independent living, we can save a tremendous amount of money for the health care system."
When these technologies will become widely used remains an open question. Thies argued that affordability will evolve over time with reimbursement through health care payers, adding that relevant features could even become built-in options on phones or televisions.
The research projects awarded grants this year by ETAC were:
• Alan F. Newell will explore designing a system based on digital television that reminds or prompts people with Alzheimers to complete their daily living activities.
• Alex Mihailidis will develop a new technology called COACH (Cognitive Orthosis for Assisting Activities in the Home), which can monitor the actions of an older adult with dementia during daily activities such as using the washroom. It will then provide personalized assistance using verbal and visual prompting when an error is made or the person seems to be confused.
• Diane F. Mahoney will research the wants and needs of multiple caregivers and health professionals when it comes to home monitoring systems. She will look at the end-user preferences ranging from what is monitored to how the information is received (PDA, cell phone, etc.). Mahoney will adapt her community-based home monitoring system for use in elderly residential housing.
• Ronald M. Baecker and Elsa Marziali will explore expanding the Internet-based support tools available for caregivers. Todays systems lack the media richness of animation and video that could enhance caregivers skills and improve the quality of life for them and their loved ones.
• Adrian Leibovici will investigate how monitoring devices such as pedometers and wireless sensor technologies can be used in evaluating the degree of psycho-behavioral symptoms of dementia such as agitation, apathy and depression.