interviews

08.08.17

Improving care at the touch of a screen

Source: NHE Jul/Aug 2017

When it comes to dementia, having a calm and safe environment can have a substantial impact on a patient’s quality of life. NHE’s Josh Mines talks to the University of Stirling’s Lesley Palmer about how a new app aims to improve the lives of dementia sufferers and those who care for them.

Dementia is an illness that can be incredibly distressing for patients and their carers, and particularly hard to manage effectively. A blanket term for a number of disorders that trigger a loss of brain function, dementia typically causes patients to frequently become confused as they lose large chunks of their memory, whilst also feeling their motor skills and language proficiency gradually slip away.

 

But new technological innovations could be emerging as a way of making the job of dementia carers easier, and more importantly, making the lives of those living with the illness more comfortable.

 

An app being developed by the University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) aims to do just that. Called IRIDIS (Intelligence Research Iterative Design Interface System), the software is designed to assess the suitability of buildings including workplaces, public buildings and homes for people living with dementia.

 

Creating a user-friendly platform for existing research

 

IRIDIS is a digital continuation of DSDC’s dementia audit tool, a document which was written a few years ago to give people an idea of how to make environments safer, more comfortable and better suited for dementia sufferers, Lesley Palmer, chief architect at the DSDC, told NHE.

 

“In 2009 we published the tool, and now we are going to put that into an app which is much more user-friendly and allows users to assess their own environment for how dementia-friendly their environment is,” she said.

 

A number of different apps will be released over the next few months aimed at carers, healthcare professionals and also those in the construction industry. The first of these will be designed for people with dementia and their carers, and works by assessing the suitability of the building for an older person based on the user’s answers about their environment, as well as pictures of the home environment.

 

It then considers factors such as lighting, colour contrast and potential noise to calculate how suitable the house is for the patient, before making practical suggestions to improve the setting. This could be as simple as changing a light bulb, or the app may recommend larger changes, like reconfiguring a bathroom.

 

Though there have already been apps developed to serve a similar purpose as IRIDIS, what makes DSDC’s app stand out from the crowd is that it allows users to send data to the platform and receive more accurate, personalised advice. 

 

“There’s a few apps that are based on a gaming platform, which gives you a video of a modelled environment and, from that, it gives prompts to things that are not great for people with dementia” Palmer continued. “What IRIDIS does is it sits on a platform so users will be able to feed information up to the platform and get further guidance back from it.”

 

The importance of credible information

 

Another use for the app, Palmer added, is in providing users links to credible, factually accurate and useful publications about dementia that can give out even more detailed information.

 

“IRIDIS will route the user through to other publications and research, so we’re able to cut through quite a lot of information that is out there on the internet around how to make things dementia-friendly. What we want to do is show the information that is based on credible research,” she said.

 

“This tool will be iterative and will allow users to get access to more research, more publications and more information than any other.”

 

In the future, the app will be refined even further to suit the needs of medical professionals working with people with dementia.

 

“There will be a healthcare app developed as part of that second tranche of professional apps as well,” explained Palmer. “For workers, it will give them a very simple user interface to take photos, and test for contrast between the toilet seats and the floors, for example, test for what changes they can make from a small scale to a large scale just based on the guidance that the app gives.

 

“It would also look at specific sign attributes of healthcare and clinical buildings to make them more suitable for patients. We have the research, it just needs to be translated and put out there publicly, so the healthcare app will be more building-specific.”

 

Another essential feature that the team at DSDC has its eyes on is the apps opening up lines of dialogue between healthcare professionals, home owners and the construction industry.

 

“They will all be able to talk to each other and, over the next three years, get information on the issues that are coming up in the built environment that are challenging for the older population,” said Palmer.

 

IRIDIS embodies two vital elements that have been emphasised by NHS leads to improve care in the future: technological innovation and collaborative working. The concept behind IRIDIS is a simple one, and yet for those who have to deal with dementia in their day-to-day lives, it has the potential to make an incredible difference.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.dementia.stir.ac.uk

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