The Importance of Technology in Improving Quality of Life in People with Dementia
Although the tough reality is that we are very far from finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the good news is that there have been tremendous advances in engineering and technology development that can improve the lives of those who suffer from dementia. We are not very far from the day that the Google self-driving car will become widely available to consumers. This car could help older adults with dementia or vision limitations maintain a greater degree of independence. Technology will also allow us to pre-program destinations for the Google car for people who would otherwise be unable to drive themselves. Other robotic technologies will help people to stay at their homes longer. For example, systems are able to automatically detect injurious falls when they occur and notify caregivers that assistance is needed. There are numerous other examples that could be listed.
Members of our team are developing technologies for better pain management. Pain in people with limited ability to communicate due to dementia tends to be underrecognized. The best way to evaluate pain in advanced dementia is through the systematic observation of pain behaviours (e.g., certain grimaces). Many long-term care homes, however, are understaffed and front line workers may not always have the time to complete pain assessments as frequently as needed. Imagine the difference that it would make if these pain behaviours could be detected automatically, using computer vision, as people go about their daily routines. Imagine also a computerised system that could notify care staff when the frequency of pain behaviours exceeds a predetermined frequency. This would help address the problem of pain underrecognition and result in improved pain management.
Our team, co-led by Dr. Babak Taati (Toronto Rehabilitation Institute) has developed and is refining an algorithm designed to detect and monitor pain behaviours in dementia. Initial results have been published in scientific literature (see, for example, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33338024/). Live testing at the laboratory will likely begin within the next few months. The system is expected to be capable of continuous pain monitoring that cannot be achieved by a human observer. In other words, it is not realistic nor desirable to have a health professional observe a patient for 24 hours a day. An automated system, however, can do just that. In closing, it is important to note that our pain detection system will not be recording or saving any video which would minimize privacy concerns.
Heading up the #SeePainMoreClearly team, Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos served as President of the Canadian Psychological Association during the 2007-2008 year. His research, which has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the AGE WELL National Centres of Excellence, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), focuses on psychological issues in pain.
How You Can Help?
Would you like to share your thoughts on our See Pain More Clearly initiative and the use of social media to mobilize knowledge about pain in dementia?
We are looking for researchers to participate in a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the #seepainmoreclearly social media initiative to mobilize knowledge about pain in dementia.