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European research helps people with dementia to navigate their day

As approximately 1.9 million elderly people in Europe experience a form of dementia. A pan-European research project is seeking to help them 'navigate their day' and improve their quality of life.

The recently launched CogKnow project, funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), aims to help people to remember, maintain social contact, perform daily life activities and enhance their feelings of safety.

Dr Nugent from the University of Ulster in the UK told CORDIS News: 'We are delighted to be involved in this project which is working towards the development of tangible home-based solutions to support persons with memory loss problems.

'The project is unique in the way that both patients and carers will contribute to the design of the discrete user-friendly technology,' he added.

As the technical coordinator of the project, the role of the university will be to research and prototype assistive technologies to support people with memory loss by providing easily recognisable prompts to help them navigate through their day.

Following the results of a first study where people with dementia described their unmet needs, the project partners have now begun work on a portable cognitive prosthetic device which will help with information, communication, safety and reminders.

For example, the first function, currently in development, is called 'picture dialling', whereby the user need only press a button with a picture on the device for a phone connection to be made to a carer or a member of the family. Another function being considered uses radio frequency Identification (RFID) technology to track the movements of patients and send out an alarm if they forget an appointment or need to take medicine.

Dr Nugent said that although the project is still in its early stages, this first study had provided invaluable input and guidance on which to base initial technical developments.

'Now we plan to evaluate the deployment of our first technical solutions during the summer of 2007 in Northern Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands, where we will assess rudimentary issues such as usefulness and user friendliness of the technology,' he said

In its first year the project will stick to developing this low-level technology with an eye on progressing to ambient intelligence and its enhanced possibilities for contextual awareness and automated support functionalities.

Dr Nugent said: 'Ambient intelligence is one of our rapidly growing research areas and will be the next step in technologies for assisted living of elderly people.'

Dementia is a progressive, disabling, chronic disease affecting 5% of all persons above 65, and over 40% of people over 90 years old. The term dementia refers to a combination of symptoms involving impairments of memory, speech, thought, perception and reasoning.

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Virginia Mercouri | CORDIS
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