Five companies are researching high-tech ways to help reduce the anxiety of those living with dementia travelling to hospital appointments.
The initiative, called A Cute Solution to Acute Anxiety In Dementia, is being run by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).
More than 20 companies initially applied to take part in the innovation challenge, which will see the development of novel online tools, such as a mobile app.
The aim is to help people living with dementia cope with the anxiety they feel when it comes to attending hospital or clinic appointments.
Following a Dragons’ Den style pitch, five firms have been chosen to take forward research and development projects over the next four months. Then just two will be asked to turn their feasibility concepts into reality and create prototype demonstrators leading to a marketable product.
The companies are Book of You from Ruthin in Denbighshire, Smyl Connect from Swansea, Damibu from Liverpool, Oxford-based Zipabout and National Star College in Cheltenham.
A dementia champion who was part of the selection panel has hailed the project as an exciting development that will enable thousands to feel confident enough to venture outside their homes by themselves.
Symptoms of dementia include memory loss and difficulties with language and everyday activities, as well as considerable anxiety, which can lead to changing moods and depression.
BCUHB Informatics Project Lead Anna Richards said: “This SBRI dementia project is exciting. The Health Board is working in collaboration with dynamic small companies to research and develop their concepts and, if successful with phase two, produce an innovative, marketable product which will aim to improve the challenges faced by people in our care living with dementia.”
She added: “After we put out the call to businesses there was a great deal of interest in the project. Following the supplier briefing event in St Asaph in October, 23 potential suppliers submitted an application detailing their potential ideas.
“These included a mobile app or something innovative, to help people. For example, reminding them of their appointment date and place, how to get to the location, what ward or department they are looking for and where to go – lots of little steps enabling them to safely and confidently reach their destination.”
An estimated 42,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with early onset dementia, out of 850,000 people with dementia. Just in North Wales, there are more than 11,000 people living with dementia.
The project has won praise from 55-year-old Chris Roberts from Rhuddlan. He was diagnosed with early onset vascular dementia five years ago and has since become a major advocate for others with the condition.
He is an official dementia champion for the Alzheimers Society and a member of the European Working Group for People with Dementia, and was part of the panel that chose the five companies now involved.
As part of the BBC’s Dementia Season, Chris featured in a documentary chronicling the development of his Alzheimer’s. Filmed over two years using CCTV fitted in his home, the documentary showed how he, his wife Jayne and youngest daughter Kate coped with the developing symptoms of his condition.
He said: “The initial selection process was very interesting and it was good to see them coming up with ideas to help deal with the anxiety that people with dementia feel when they go outside their homes.
“If we can get it right for dementia, it’ll help so many other people too – people with brain injuries or mental health difficulties for example.
“People with dementia do get very anxious when they go outside of their own personal space and can end up feeling lost. I’m actually afraid to leave my home alone.
“If it is an app that’s developed it would be like having your own personal assistant accompanying you when you go out. Perhaps it could also have a link to a person’s family members, so it would be like having them with you too when you’re out.”
The project is supported by the UK Department for Transport and the Welsh Government.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones, said: “I look forward to seeing the shortlisted technology which has potential to help some 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia.
“For many of these people, just the very thought of travelling to hospital means they may have a difficult or confusing journey, they may not benefit from their treatment, or they may end up skipping the appointment altogether. I hope this innovation plays a big step in making transport accessible for everybody.”