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Photo: NYU/Sapna Parikh

DRESS prototype to help people with dementia stay independent

A new assistive technology prototype could help people with dementia dress themselves through smart home technology.

The DRESS prototype, designed by NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, Arizona State University and MGH Institute of Health Professions, is aimed at those who struggle with remembering how to perform day-to-day activities with the hope of providing some independence and privacy to those people, as well as some additional freedom to the care giver.

The goal of the research was to help those with dementia “age in place more gracefully, while ideally allowing the caregiver to do other tasks,” with the technology alerting the carer when the activity is completed, or assistance is needed.

The prototype – designed by a team including experts form gerontology, engineering, social sciences, nursing and psychology, as well as using input from caregiver teams and family members of those with dementia – uses a mixture of sensors on clothing and a set of dresser drawers, combined with automated vocal prompts recorded by the carer, to help correct dressing errors such as wearing a shirt back to front.

The sensors on the clothing measures which side is facing the specifically laid out five drawer dresser – designed in accordance with the Alzheimer Association’s dressing guidelines – that contains one item of clothing per drawer.

The carer initiates the sequence via mobile device and, as the dresser senses the person is nearby, the voice recorded prompts them to start to dress, with red lights and prompts activated if the person dressing makes a mistake. The sensors can also measure stress levels and if the person with dementia becomes stuck, confused or experiences increased stress, the DRESS prototype initiates an activity, previously selected by the caregiver, which aims to soothe the person with dementia, such as a favourite song.

The laboratory study used 11 healthy participants and produced positive results, with the prototype accurately predicting a participant’s clothing 384 of 388 times. However, identifying dress completion proved more difficult, with the DRESS prototype incorrectly identifying 10 of 22 cases for shirts and 5 of 22 cases of pants.

Lead author Winslow Burleson, associate professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing said: “With the improvements identified by this study, the DRESS prototype has the potential to provide automated dressing support to assist people with dementia in maintaining their independence and privacy, while alleviating the burden on caregivers.

“We had a project on smart homes and DIY IoT (Internet of things) interactions called Game as Life – Life as Game, that I shared with Professor Diane Mahoney at Massachusetts General Hospital and she asked if these systems could be used for dressing,” he said. “We have been collaborating on it ever since.”

After the successful trial, and some improvements on the prototype, at-home studies conducted with persons with dementia are slated to start in the coming months.

“We are creating various levels of intervention. These allow caregivers to have differing degrees of interaction, to better support the diverse needs of persons living with dementia. This approach allows for greater customisation and more personalised support,” said Burleson.

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