Tech Start Up Aims to Fill Gap in Dementia Strategy
Memrica, a UK start up based in the West Midlands, is developing a tablet and smartphone app to help people live well with memory problems. Prompt uses recognition technology to link information users want to remember to the people and things around them for an instant reminder of identities, places or ‘how to’ guides. A smart recall system automatically collates data, image and sound files to bring the user all the information they need to make the most of events and appointments. Voice interaction is available for ease of use. Prompt has been designed with people living with dementia, their families and carers and clinical staff and can be used by anyone with concerns about their memory. R&D is supported by a grant from Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading Tech for Good funder.
44 million people in the world live with dementia today and the figures are expected to triple by 2050. The search for a cure is on, but it’s likely to be more than a decade before a new drug is in the market. Equally, although recent evidence shows a healthy lifestyle, exercise and keeping the mind active can delay the onset of dementia, even possibly reverse some of the symptoms, we don’t yet know how effective that might be over the long term and whether everyone will benefit.
Memrica believes the conversation around technology and dementia is too limited and focused on devices that can monitor an individual’s location, whether they have fallen, whether they have used the bathroom or kitchen or tech for reminiscence therapy. This is often technology that’s arguably of more benefit to family or carers than the individual living with dementia; it is used for them or with them, but not by them themselves. There’s very little thought given to how people worried about their memory, waiting for a diagnosis or in the early stages of the disease can use technology to support themselves to have a good quality of life as long as possible. Yet in other areas of health and wellbeing, including mental health, there’s a huge interest in tools for self monitoring and managing.
Memrica’s founder Mary Matthews says, “There’s an underlying assumption that the future profile of people living with dementia will be similar to those of today. In fact they are likely to be very different; they have grown up with technology all around them, they are comfortable with augmenting their lives with information from the web, apps, sensors and wearables and expect responsive, personalised information streams to inform, improve and manage day to day living. They will continue to use social networks, virtual communications and digital tools to monitor and improve their health, well into what we now consider to be old age.”
Since the first National Dementia Strategy was released in 2009/10 the personal technology landscape has exploded; the first iPad, released in 2010, paved the way for tablets to become ubiquitous, health and fitness wearable trackers have moved from special interest devices to the mainstream and the use of the internet has become an essential part of life, for all generations. 96% of UK adults aged 55 – 65 go online, according to the Office of National Statistics, along with 93% of 65 -75 year olds and 86% of those aged 75+. Almost 20% of the UK’s 65-74 year olds already use a tablet according to Ofcom while 26% use a smartphone.
Mary says, “The Prime Minister’s Strategy for Dementia 2020 only mentions technology 6 times! It’s madness to ignore tech we have in our hands that can help people live well as long as possible. Up to 9% of people with dementia are under 65 and are already using tablets and smartphones to create their own coping strategies. These are the trailblazers who point to what will become the norm in a relatively short time as this group ages, diagnoses are made more quickly and new cases emerge as Millennials age. Research into causes, drug or treatment development and better support for carers are essential and must be core to the next 5 year strategy, but the potential for technology needs a higher profile.”
Prompt is at Alpha stage and is now recruiting people to help test the app, prior to a planned independently evaluated pilot in early summer 2015. Anyone interested in participating should contact firstname.lastname@example.org