Friday, 1 March 2024
Friday, 1 March 2024

£4m tech prize offers new hope to help people with dementia stay independent

ALZHEIMER’S Society has united with Innovate UK and Challenge Works to launch a new multi-million-pound competition – a collaborative partnership of charity, government and UK donors – to find cutting-edge technology that can help people with dementia live independently at home for longer.

The announcement comes as more than half of people surveyed who have close family and friends living with the condition say such technology would help them feel less worried about family or friends with dementia.

The new £4.34m Longitude Prize on Dementia calls for innovators globally to use artificial intelligence to create breakthrough technologies that learn from a person living with dementia, adapting and compensating for their condition as it progresses, and help people living with dementia maintain their independence and lead a fulfilling life doing things they enjoy.

In a new survey of people with close family and friends living with dementia, 54% of people said they would be less concerned about their relative’s safety if they had the technology to help them live independently, and six in ten people believe that technology will become even more important in the future for managing dementia.

£4m tech prize offers new hope to help people with dementia stay independent

Kate Lee, Chief Executive Officer, of Alzheimer’s Society said:

“We know that people with dementia want to live independent, fulfilled lives doing the things they love and our research shows that people feel that technology could play a crucial part in helping them live the lives they want.

“Most existing technology for people with dementia is designed to keep them safe or give their carers peace of mind. But there are huge opportunities to harness cutting-edge technology to help fill in the gaps in their brain and thinking as their condition progresses.

“The results showed that many felt technology, like facial recognition, could help them communicate when their speech declines, but would not be available in their loved ones’ lifetime, however amazingly it already exists in the apps and smart technology we use every day. We could repurpose the software of TikTok and WhatsApp to help people put a name to a face or remember a word. The new Longitude Prize on Dementia will open up huge possibilities in this area, making technology work for people living with dementia and their families.”

Contributions to the Longitude Prize from funders CareTech Foundation, The Hunter Foundation and Heather Corrie will not only go towards a £1 million first prize but will also bolster wider support to give innovators crucial insight and expertise, such as access to data, collaboration with people with dementia, and expert advice on product design and business aspects of the innovation.

CareTech Foundation, a grant-making foundation providing support to the social care sector, hopes the competition will incentivise development into new technologies to help people stay independent in their own homes.

Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation, said:

“Dementia is a devastating disease that robs individuals of their identity, and, with the numbers of people diagnosed set to continue to rise, we know that getting care and support right is so important for our ageing population, family carers and for everyone who works in social care. That’s why finding innovative technology to revolutionise the day-to-day lives of those living with dementia will provide timely and critical solutions. At CareTech, we have already invested in cutting-edge technology which could transform the way we care for people and it will inevitably be a key part of how we all deliver the best care in the future. Our decision to be part of this Prize was a no-brainer and we are excited to see it unleash the potential of talented innovators.”

There are 50 million people living with dementia globally, with around 900,000 in the UK – and it is set to rise dramatically. The condition devastates lives, causing people to lose memories, relationships and their identity. The devastating condition could affect 153 million by 2050. Although there is currently no cure for dementia, people with the condition can live well for years. Hospital admissions have been proven to increase the rate of decline, but the hope is that assistive technology can help people stay safe and independent in their homes for longer. A survey by Alzheimer’s Society revealed that 85% of people said they would want to stay at home for as long as possible if diagnosed with dementia.

This prize invites global innovators to develop technologies that learn about the routines of people living with early-stage dementia, employing artificial intelligence and machine learning to adapt as their condition progresses, bridging the cognitive gaps that develop with the disease.

There are huge possibilities for dementia which are currently largely untapped. The survey reveals that although some reported that loved ones benefitted from existing technology including monitoring devices (20%), GPS tracking devices (16%), and phone reminders (14%), over a quarter of people said their relatives didn’t use technology at all (26%).

Peter Harris, 58, is a former oil rig worker, from Cleethorpes, who has lived with vascular dementia for five years. He said:

“I’d forget to take my daily medication if it wasn’t for my smart speaker alerts, and I’d leave the oven on after cooking if one of my sons hadn’t programmed the speaker to remind me. In my old flat, I had a hob that I would leave on and once a tea towel caught on fire, but luckily I was able to get it in the sink. Thankfully there was no damage done but, of course, my children were really worried, and one of my sons decided to get me the smart speaker so it wouldn’t happen again. Now both my sons and my daughter have peace of mind.

“The number one priority for me is to keep safe and happy at home. I don’t want to give up my independence and I am excited by any technology that could help me stay at home for longer. I’m grateful my son can help me, but I know not everyone has that support. My dementia means I struggle to follow instructions, and often don’t even know where to start, so it’s important that technology is designed with people like me in mind.”

Delivered by challenge prize experts, Challenge Works, the £4.34m Longitude Prize on Dementia will award £3.34 million in seed funding and grants to the most promising innovators, with a £1 million prize awarded to the winner in early 2026. To find out more and enter the Longitude Prize on Dementia, go to dementia.longitudeprize.org. Entries close on 26 January 2023.

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