From a desire to maintain his grandmother’s independence, David Grey has pioneered a data-driven solution to dementia care which is set to enable people to remain in their own homes for longer.
Through GG Care, everyday smart home and fitness technology is being repurposed to enable carers and families to automate care, through the delivery of prompts and reminders via IoT devices, while also being able to monitor their progress remotely and discreetly.
The concept, launched in May 2021, is now in use by growing numbers of families and people living with dementia around the world, with strong growth in the UK, United States, Canada and Australia, as people embrace the use of technology to help tackle the growing crisis of dementia – cases of which could triple to 152million by 2050.
And continually evolving to meet the needs of people and their families, GG Care has recently added a personalised service to carers, where they complete a questionnaire and receive a guide to readily-available technology to help them deliver the best possible care.
GG Care takes its name from ‘Gran Gran’, David’s name for his grandmother, who moved from their native United States to be with him in the UK six years ago, so David could become her carer as she battled the effects of dementia.
But while David – who has a background in finance and developing hyper-growth startups, with a specialism in data – was delighted to be able to look after his beloved grandmother, the lack of support became very quickly obvious.
“I realised I was very green as to what dementia care was. I have such a special bond with her, but didn’t actually know what it meant to care for somebody with dementia,” says David.
“But I got to understand what that was rather quickly when she was living with me. She’s always been an independent woman, so the plan was for her to live on her own and we’d find her a place nearby, although I was nervous what that would actually look like.
“Then the pandemic came and her whole routine was up-ended. I was concerned as to how we could now protect her independence, as I had seen what routine change could do.”
Having tried unsuccessfully to find tech-based solutions to assist, David saw the opportunity to create his own, which could be used via existing everyday technology, such as Amazon Alexa, Fitbit, Samsung motion sensor and Withings under-mattress sleep tracker.
Working alongside co-founder Mario Olivio Flores – who too has experience of supporting a grandmother with dementia – GG Care was created, with David’s data expertise swinging into action at the outbreak of the UK COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Through the creation of the means to form the bridge between smart home devices with care, combining remote monitoring with remote assistance, David recognised the opportunity to deliver new and better support to his grandmother and the wider dementia community – 70 per cent of whom are believed to live independently.
“I was taking my grandmother on walks during the pandemic so I got her a Fitbit, which she loved, but would forget to charge it,” recalls David.
“And right before the pandemic came, I took her to a seniors’ club and they were they sang a song that neither of us heard in 15 years. She was able to recite all the words verbatim – that’s when I understood the power of music.
“I got her a radio, but she wouldn’t remember to turn it on.
“I think my background in tech made me look at things differently. Rather than try to create a solution starting from scratch, or buying a particular company’s kit, why can’t I use what’s already available?
“So I realised, that through getting her an Alexa, I could programme music to come on for her in the morning, I can make up a special playlist of her favourite songs.
“I also found a way to create an Alexa Skill specifically for her, to give step by step instructions to charge her Fitbit.
“I programmed it to come on every night at 8 o’clock. It would ask if she was wearing her watch, tell her where it would be if she wasn’t (in her coat pocket), give her time to find it, and then give instructions on how to connect the charger.”
Through devising a way to automate reminders for basic tasks, David began to see a strong response from his grandmother.
“After about two weeks, I came into her room and the watch was on her charger – it wasn’t 8 o’clock yet,” says David.
“Unbeknown to me, I had conducted cognitive rehabilitation therapy, which the academics tell me happens when you give someone a repeated instruction so they can learn new skills, even though they have cognitive issues.
“I thought that was really interesting, and wondered what else could this do.”
And from there, GG Care created the means for an Alexa to become a ‘virtual dementia care companion’, with other commonplace tech also playing a vital role in enabling people to remain socially connected through interactive engagement, while their families and carers can monitor their wellness remotely.
As well as delivering new levels of independence, its value among medical and care teams is also significant.
“When I take my grandmother to the doctor, they love it because I could give them actual data about her sleeping patterns or activity or the steps she takes in a day – this is really valuable information to show how a person lives, as they can’t always rely on the information they give themselves,” says David.
“And it’s all done via technology people are familiar with, they trust the findings, they know they’re accurate. So that’s really important.”
The redefinition of the role of smart home tech as being at the heart of dementia care is of huge significance in realising its potential, he says.
“It is our belief that the devices to help people live independently with dementia already exist and you can buy them on Amazon. You can get them delivered the next day,” says David.
“I’m not even sure if the manufacturers themselves know the use they could have.
“When you think of a motion sensor, often you think of a busy yuppy who wants to come home and their lights automatically come on.
“But what we want is to help people think of the role they have in helping a person with dementia just go to the bathroom at night without tripping over something, because the motion sensor has allowed them to see.”
From the initial prototype proving its efficacy, GG Care launched to the world a year ago, with more than 300 registered users to date and pilot trials ongoing to refine and develop its offering even further.
“The feedback through the pilot is so important to make sure that you’re doing the right thing, the things that people want and need, and that it’s not just specifically around my unique circumstances as an only grandchild looking after my grandmother,” says David.
“We want to be making sure it’s widely acceptable for everybody to use. We’re having regular conversations about what they liked, what they didn’t like, what we could make better – this will really help us to improve the product itself and make it even more important in creating a new kind of dementia care.”
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