World Alzheimer’s Day: when medicine and technology go hand in hand
Today marks World Alzheimer’s Day, a disease that affects 1 in 10 people over 65 years of age. Currently, there is no cure or treatment, but it is possible to detect early or slow down the signs of the disease through the application of ICT. Virtual reality, mobile games, IoT, machine learning, etc.
Did you know that Alzheimer’s is a disease that more than 800,000 people in Spain suffered from in 2019 alone? If the prevalence remains constant, in 2050 it is estimated that there will be around 130 million people with Alzheimer’s in the world, according to data from the Spanish Society of Neurology.
Today, September 21, marks World Alzheimer’s Day. This year, the motto selected by the Spanish Alzheimer’s Confederation is developed around “Dependency outside the Law”, emphasizing the Law for the Promotion of Personal Autonomy and Care for people in a situation of Dependency. In other words, how to improve care for people living with this diseaseas well as their families.
In this way, in the fight against the disease, the medical research and technological advances. One of them is the arrival of the 5G revolution, along with other technologies, which bring with them various applications that can help improve the quality of life of these people. In this way, since April, Movistar has prioritized the elderly in its telephone information and breakdown services. Thus, they ensure communication to one of the most vulnerable groups of the social and health crisis generated by Covid 19.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. For this reason, a early diagnostic of this disease is essential so that affected people can be treated with the few treatments available.
The problem is that there is no test that specifies that a person has this disease. Therefore, the way to act by health personnel is through the development of a battery of neuropsychological and clinical tests.
So, how can ICTs help in this regard? Researchers from Boston University (United States) have developed a computer algorithm based on the artificial intelligence, accurately predicting the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is done using a combination of brain MRI, age and gender data, and tests to measure cognitive decline.
In other words, thanks to the application of ICTs, specifically machine learning, a computer is capable of early detection of Alzheimer’s in people. This is an advance of vital importance, since by detecting this disease early there are more chances to slow it down and, therefore, extend people’s quality of life. In fact, with the arrival of 5G, artificial intelligence is expected to be more efficient and faster, thanks to connectivity and charging speed.
Greater personal autonomy
Likewise, taking into account the motto of the Spanish Confederation of Alzheimer for the commemoration of the world day, the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT, its acronym in English) will help people with the disease to have greater autonomy in a safe way.
One of the applications with this technology consists in the use of GPS monitoring devices, since thanks to the small size of these devices they can be worn as a pendant, on the wrist, in the shoe and even in an insole, avoiding the risk of loss or being taken away. In this way, thanks to the use of these applications, we can know in real time where they are located people with any type of dementia.
There are also sensors that let you know how long the fridge hasn’t been opened, if the bathroom has been used or if the lights have been left on. In this way, when the sensor detects that, for example, the fridge has not been used for a specific time, a notification is sent to a family member’s mobile and, thus, they can contact that person to make sure that they are okay.
The IoT offers a greater security and peace of mind, both for people with Alzheimer’s and for their families. The aforementioned applications show that technologies have come to make life easier for all people, regardless of age. Based on this global reality, different solutions are created and applied that help earlier detection or make life easier for people with dementia.
The positive application of virtual reality
The existence of a cure or an effective treatment for people with Alzheimer’s is currently a utopia. For this reason, many of the efforts focus on the creation of alternative solutions that aim to improve the quality of life of these people.
Although much remains to be investigated, it is known that the use of virtual reality is Beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s. One of the most mediatic cases is the application of Sea Hero Quest VR, a game developed to detect the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s in its players.
The application, developed by the London studio Glitchers in collaboration with different universities, represents a great advance in this field of study, since according to an article published in the scientific journal PNAS, two minutes playing this game is equivalent to five years of study on the illness.
Another virtual reality project, Dementia First Hand, arises to raise awareness around the disease. In this way, it allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of people with Alzheimer’s, a term known as virtual embodiment.
The importance of making Alzheimer’s visible
This disease affects 1 in 10 people over 65 years of age. Currently, we cannot put an end to this disease, however, we can accompany and improve the quality of life of those people who are in this situation. In addition to managing to delay memory loss with the different applications offered by the world of ICT.
Virtual reality, mobile games, IoT, machine learning, among others, are just a few examples of the range of possibilities that technologies offer us. It is not only important to accompany people with Alzheimer’s and help them promote their autonomy, relying on this type of applications. But it is also essential to achieve put ourselves in their place and let us know about Alzheimer’s disease, managing to make it visible.
Header image: Gonzalo Chavarri;
Body text images: Geralt
Header image: Ribbon Arribas