Surrey and Borders dementia techA £5 million trial has been launched to see how the Internet of Things could transform the lives of people with dementia by using technology in their support.

The trial, led by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, will involve 1,400 people and is the first in the UK to test how the Internet of Things could help to modernise NHS healthcare for the benefit of older people with long-term health conditions.

Called TIHM (Technology Integrated Health Management) for dementia, the trial will help clinicians to remotely monitor the health and wellbeing of people with dementia so they can intervene earlier to help someone avoid a crisis and unnecessary hospital stay. It is also hoped the trial will relieve pressure on carers and help people with dementia to remain independent for longer.

The trial is funded by NHS England and Innovate UK. Partners include the Alzheimer’s Society, University of Surrey, Royal Holloway University of London, Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network, six Surrey and Northeast Hampshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and 9 technology innovators.

People receiving the technology in the trial will have their homes kitted out with non-invasive technological devices, such as sensors, apps and trackers. These devices will connect to each other via the Internet of Things and work together to collect and analyse different pieces of information, that will be securely managed, about a person’s health and patterns of behaviour. 

The data will enable the devices to identify if there is a problem. If there is, mental health professionals will be immediately alerted and a decision taken about the action needed. This may mean a clinician is sent out to visit the person or a call is made to the carer.

Technological devices in the trial include sensors attached to objects such as fridges, kettles and beds. These can, for example, detect if someone is following normal patterns of behaviour for eating and drinking or is at risk of dehydration and whether they are unusually restless at night. The technology will not replace any existing face-to-face contact with health or social care staff.

Dr Ramin Nilforooshan, leading dementia specialist at Surrey and Borders Partnership, said: “The technology is designed to alert us to any changes in behaviour or any changes in wellbeing that could signal someone is becoming unwell or that they are in trouble. For example, they may be developing a urinary tract or lower respiratory infection. We could detect the early signs/symptoms of those infections and successfully treat them at home.

“We know that people with dementia do not respond well to being in hospital – and that their symptoms can worsen in this environment so it is much better if we can treat them before they need to be admitted to hospital.”

The Alzheimer’s Society is recruiting 150 trained volunteers who will keep in regular touch with participants and offer them support.

People who want to get involved in the trial must live in Surrey or Northeast Hampshire and have a diagnosis of mild to moderate dementia. They must also have a carer who is willing to participate in the study. Surrey and Borders Partnership is looking for 700 people with dementia and 700 carers to get involved. Half of the people with dementia will be randomly selected to receive the technological devices. The remaining half will form the control group and continue with their care as usual.

Dr Helen Rostill, director of innovation and development at Surrey and Borders Partnership, said: “This is an exciting trial that could make a significant difference to the lives of people with dementia – and their families. With a growing elderly population, it is right that we examine innovative new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, to see what we can do to help people live better lives in their own homes and help them avoid stays in hospital that we know they can find very distressing.”