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Dementia sufferers could benefit from Fitbit style trackers

Dementia sufferers could benefit from Fitbit style trackers
3rd November 2016

Kitting people with dementia out with tracking devices similar to those currently on the market, such as Fitbits, could be a good idea. That is according to scientists who believe that data into movement and other activities could help beat the condition.

British researchers are currently looking into the use of movement trackers for the demographic. They suggest that knowing intimate details about the lives and habits of sufferers, including when they go to bed and how much television they watch, could help their carers.

Dr Chris Pickford, of the University of Salford, said using technology to gain valuable insight could lead to spotting problems before they become serious. If the idea is to go ahead then discussions into whether it is ethical and safeguarding against the misuse of the data must be conducted.

Health wristbands and wearable devices have become popular in recent years, with users able to see everything from their heart rate to the number of steps they’ve walked in a day. The idea is that such information acts as motivation to up fitness levels when there is a slump.

The latest proposals for the device are thought to be the first time this type of technology has been considered for patients with cognitive impairments. Instead of being worn on the wrist, the activPAL tracker would be attached to the bottom of the leg, allowing it to monitor all movement from side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards.

A computer then looks at the information collected on the device to discern whether the patient’s lifestyle is about right. It will include data on sitting times, activity levels, eating regularity, bed times and how often they are up in the night.

Dr Pickford addressed an audience at the Dementia Congress 2016 in Brighton on the sub. He said that his research came as a direct result of first-hand experiences looking after his own grandmother, who suffered from the disorder.

He added: “We didn't really understand at the time what was going on. If we had little bits of data and could gather all that together to help explain, it would have made it so much easier for us.”

Hilary Woodhead, a dementia specialist consultant, raised issues around consent and permission, as it could be that information is shared too freely. Such issues would need to be considered, but in the meantime, good healthcare providers take time to monitor patients in more traditional ways to ensure their routines are conducive to living with the condition.