AMi - Alzheimer Monitoring

The research group Information Systems and New Media and ITSS solutions + systems GmbH, Cologne, cooperate in a new project on technological support for people suffering from dementia and their caregivers. The project is funded by the German Ministry of Economics and Technology.

The AMi project aims at improving not only the everyday lives of people who suffer from dementia disease, such as Alzheimer, but also their family caregivers and elder care providers. As long as there is no cure, research must concentrate on support measures which help improve the social situations of those persons affected by this illness and their caregivers around them.

The AMi project centers on the development of a technological system that provides relief for persons suffering from one of the most demanding symptoms which can have serious consequences: the problem of wandering and its severe consequences, such as getting lost. On the basis of GPS technology, the project partners develop and run a system which allows the continuous positioning of dementia patients.

The slow progress of neurons in different parts of the brain causes decreased mental ability and consequently impairs those afflicted from safely living an independent life - a process which currently can neither be averted nor hindered. The dementia patients themselves and their caregivers have to cope with enormous day-to-day challenges. Wandering and becoming lost is one of the most problematic symptoms as it fosters anxiety, disorientation and can even lead to life-threatening situations. For family caregivers the wandering symptom may cause overwhelming stress, since ambulatory dementia patients must be under constant watch.

Dementia patients carry a GPS device which sends its GPS position either ad hoc on request or continuously to a server. The position is displayed in a high-resolution aerial image map provided by GeoContent GmbH, Magdeburg. This map is more true-to-detail than conventional maps due to about 22 million integrated house numbers and referenced areas in conventional maps not being referenced, such as woodlands or parks.

The information concerning the lost person's whereabouts and the respective area on the map with all needed context information such as pre-inserted points of interest are sent via internet to a PC or a mobile device, i.e. to a smart phone. With this technology, people in search of a missing patient can be permanently informed about the actual route the patient takes.

A user-oriented design approach aims at the situated and individual user needs. The system will be easy to use and as such will provide real, tangible support in the everyday life for family caregivers and professionals of elder care. For the dementia patients the system provides more safety and also - in some cases - a new independence for those who are then able to take a walk on their own, a task which was previously only possible with supervision.

By highlighting a tradeoff between patient safety and privacy, the personal locating system raises privacy issues. For the discussion of related aspects, data security and privacy experts have joined the project in the form of an advisory board.

To assure that the system meets real practice needs and provides real support for the persons with dementia and their caregivers, the project has sought out counsel from the self-help organization "Alzheimer Selbsthilfe e.V.".