IoT firm, UC Berkeley awarded $4.5 million research grant for dementia caregivers

The researchers will test the artificial intelligence-powered solutions designed to help reduce stress of dementia patient caregivers.
By Bill Siwicki
01:02 PM
UC Berkeley tower on campus

The National Institute on Aging awarded a $4.5 million grant to the University of California Berkeley and People Power, an IoT software provider, to support research on smart home solutions for caregivers of dementia patients.

People Power is creating customized systems through behavioral research on targeting everyday stressors for caregivers and dementia patients. The new technology gives caregivers proactive alerts that identify abnormal qualities in patient activities.

The tool increases the safety and quality of life for people living with dementia, said Robert Levenson, MD, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

“For the past 15 years, my laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, has been studying the cognitive and emotional changes in people with dementia, specifically individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia,” he said.

“In the beginning, we were focused on the individuals with dementia,” said Levenson. Over time, he spoke with caregivers about the challenges they were facing and decided to alter his research to include them.

“We’re now focused on the challenges of caregivers who work with individuals with dementia,” Levenson said. “Many caregivers develop serious mental and physical health problems as they deal with the stress and burden of caregiving.”

The current study is “attempting to understand the types of solutions and technologies that can reduce the negative effects of caregiving,” he added.

With People Power, they’re developing in-home technology that can reduce caregivers’ everyday stressors. Through the NIA grant, they’ve begun research on the main stressors for caregivers and how the integration of technology can reduce these everyday challenges.

“The majority of a caregiver’s stress is a result of troublesome behaviors from the individual with dementia,” Levenson explained. “The inability to predict these troublesome behaviors contributes to a caregiver’s likelihood of developing particular illnesses like depression, anxiety, a decline in their immune system and more.”

Through the research, they’ve determined caregivers are faced with two common challenges.

The biggest is the anxiety that comes with being the sole caregiver for an individual with dementia. Caregivers are constantly worrying about the individual’s behaviors and how these will result in the individual injuring themselves – like if they forget to turn off the stove or wander away from the home.

The second is a little more subtle, but researchers found there’s a gradual sense of social isolation that impacts caregivers over time. As dementia progresses, the caregiver’s life becomes increasingly focused on the individual with dementia, resulting in caregivers gradually becoming isolated from their social circle.

“Through the utilization of artificial intelligence, the services can intelligently learn the habits of both the caregiver and the person living with dementia,” Levenson said.

“Using this data, the in-home solution can mitigate factors in the home like noise, lighting and temperature to diminish the chances of distress for the person with dementia and the caregiver,” he continued. “This controlled environment, created through automatized tracking, can help eliminate potential triggers and simplify the caregiver’s role.”

In terms of the research, they will conduct a formal evaluation of how the in-home technology influences the lives of the individual with dementia and their caregiver. They’ll monitor their health and wellness and determine if the in-home technology helps impact the negative effects of caregiving.

“The challenge for in-home technology is that in order for it to be widely adopted, it must become individualized,” Levenson said. “Every person with dementia and every caregiver are different, so we need to create personalized solutions that are flexible and can meet the needs of both.”

For technology to provide real value, it needs to be able to learn and evolve, he added. With the use of AI, the microservices are able to evolve their services based on the caregiver’s and dementia patient’s habits to provide solutions that improve their lives.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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