Project Independence

What is Independence?

‘Independence’ is an interactive digital daily planner for people with early-stage dementia that runs on a tablet computer. The aim is to help them to continue to live at home for as long as possible.

What does it do?

Independence reminds the user about important events like appointments, or when to take their medication. It also connects their daily diary to a network of smart devices and sensors in their home, plus information from public sources like transport timetables and weather forecasts.

Eventually, the app will be able to remind a user that they have a doctor's appointment, tell them how to get there, advise them that it is raining, and check to see if their bus is on time. On the way, if they forget whether they locked the front door, they will also be able to check that on the app.

All of this information can be shared with carers at the user’s discretion.

Why is this needed?

The number of people with dementia is rising. In Western Europe, it is expected to double between 2001 and 2040. In the UK, the cost of caring for people with dementia is approximately £17.5 billion per year – more than cancer, heart disease, or stroke.

By helping dementia sufferers to live independently for longer, we can both improve their quality of life and reduce pressure on the healthcare system.

Who was involved?

ARU’s Research and Innovation Development Office formed a project team that developed a prototype app with two business partners: Healthbit are a London-based firm who designed the app. Iotic labs are specialists in combining the different data sources that the app uses. User feedback testing was generated carried out with the help of the Alzheimer's Society, Essex. Essex County Council and the NHS also supported the project. The feasibility study was funded by Innovate UK.

What was ARU’s role?

ARU managed the overall project through its Research and Innovation Development Office. We found the appropriate business partners and identified local organisations to help with the testing.

Researchers from the ARU Faculty of Medical Science designed the user testing process and provided expert advice on how to create an application that would be genuinely useful in supporting daily living for dementia patients.

How was it tested?

The project team met with people living with dementia both individually and in focus groups. We also spoke to many of their carers. The prototype was also shared with these groups who provided feedback.

What did users think?

A focus group member who is living with dementia said: "I have a tablet at home and I never used. With this app I feel I can use it every day and I think it could improve my life."

Another group member said: “I have six to 10 phone calls with my husband per day, while he is at work, just to check on everyday things like whether I have taken my medicine. This would mean far fewer calls and allow us to get back to some 'quality conversations'."

What did our business partners think?

Ifty Ahmed, CEO, Healthbit: "ARU has a wide knowledge base as well as a significant network of contacts. They were able to talk to us authoritatively about what would work for individuals living with dementia and why.  The fact that we have done a feasibility project in this way is kudos for our company; we are able to show that our technology can work for this demographic."

Mark Wharton, Chief Technology Officer, Iotic Labs: "Trying to bid for this sort of work as one small enterprise is difficult.  ARU brought us together under one umbrella. They gave us a collaborative context that made us a more compelling proposition."

What next?

The project team are planning a more detailed test and evaluation that will hopefully pave the way for commercialisation.

In the longer term, this type of technology could also be used by social care organisations, the NHS, emergency services and charities. There is also potential to develop similar apps to help people with other health conditions manage their lives with greater independence and confidence.