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SmartSocks could transform dementia care

Socks can detect agitation and help prevent falls through its ability to gather vital information from the user

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A sock which combines sensors with artificial intelligence could help detect agitation and prevent falls in people with dementia.

The innovative SmartSocks can track heart rate, sweat levels and motion to give insight into the wearer’s wellbeing, providing accurate insight into a person’s cognitive state and distress levels. 

To the wearer, they look and feel like normal socks, do not need charging and are machine washable.

One of the challenges currently facing research with people with dementia is that wearable technologies are mostly worn on wrist straps. For those living with dementia, this can cause more stress and can be removed by patients during research. By contrast, the socks are minimally invasive. 

SmartSocks inventor Dr Zeke Steer, CEO of caretech start-up Milbotix, came up with the concept after witnessing his great grandmother’s dementia journey, during which she became aggressive and anxious. 

Desperate to help progress care, Dr Steer gave up his job in the defence industry to take up a PhD in robotics, where he developed an interest around wearable technologies.

“I came up with the idea for SmartSocks while volunteering in a dementia care home,” said Dr Steer. 

“The current product is the result of extensive research, consultation and development. So far, our product has been incredibly well-received in care settings, and I’m excited to see what impact our products can have in providing early alerts of agitation and falls, alerting care home staff to take early intervention, and also in supporting people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.

“The foot is actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks are a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day, our research shows that the socks can accurately recognise signs of stress – which could really help not just those with dementia, but their carers too.”

Milbotix is working with the UK DRI Care Research and Technology Centre at Imperial College London to trial its technology as a ‘smart home’ device. It is also working with a team at the University of Exeter to test whether SmartSocks can support staff working in care homes to support people who may not be able to communicate about their agitation levels, or the cause of distress.

Dr Shlomi Haar, emerging leader at the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research & Technology Centre and Department of Brain Sciences, said: “I’m really excited about this project, which has the potential to transform care for people affected by dementia. 

“As a world-leading centre in developing smart homes for dementia we tried multiple wearable devices but we find the technology is not always suitable or comfortable for people to wear for extended periods. 

“This incredibly innovative technology should resolve this issue, since the socks look and feel exactly like normal socks.

“Combining the socks with our existing technology will greatly expand our capabilities to monitor, understand and anticipate the needs of people living with dementia, and support them to remain safely within their own homes for longer, whilst also reducing the burden on carers.”

In the Imperial study, the team will first test the SmartSocks in the living lab, a domestic environment where they study activities of daily living and develop technologies before they can be tested at home. 

The socks will then be tested in the homes of 15 people living with dementia to observe if they detect distress and agitation in the wearer.

The UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre at Imperial College London is already piloting technology that monitors sleep, movement around the home, and physiological measurements such as temperature and blood pressure. 

A centralised computer platform called ‘Minder’ then connects these measurements to a dashboard, enabling clinicians to remotely monitor people living with dementia. 

Using this technology, the team aims to be able to detect problems early, reduce avoidable hospitalisations and ultimately empower people living with dementia to remain independent within their own homes for longer.

With the addition of the SmartSocks, researchers will be able to remotely detect when a person’s cognitive state changes, which is not possible with existing devices.

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