Smart glasses for seniors with dementia

Smart glasses for seniors with dementia
Senior research engineer Chia Shue Ching, from the Institute for Infocomm Research, with the glasses, which are linked to a smartphone. He was part of the team which developed the two applications to assist the elderly.
PHOTO: Dr Xu Qianli

Old folk with dementia who need a nudge to remember friends and loved ones, or get confused over what medication to take, will soon get help - from their spectacles.

Scientists in Singapore are developing intelligent glasses that can recognise different people, for instance, and discreetly remind the user who they are; or tell him the right pills to take, and vibrate or sound an alarm when it is time to do so.

It is hoped that, in ageing Singapore, the new device will help more elderly people to cope and ease the load of caregivers. "Many elderly need their caregivers' help to take their medication at the right time and at the correct dosage. Our device may alleviate the caregiver's load by providing the reminder, verification and dosage instruction through a simple set-up," said Dr Xu Qianli, one of the researchers behind the effort.

Researchers from the Institute for Infocomm Research at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) have developed two applications on a prototype Google glass platform, a head-mounted wearable computer, which use face and image recognition technology and can be programmed to remind someone when to pop a pill.

Researchers are looking at conducting user trials within the next two years.

But anyone who is keen to give the glasses a go can check them out at X-periment! at this year's Singapore Science Festival, which starts today and runs till Aug 2.

The annual celebration of science, organised by A*Star and the Science Centre Singapore, will feature performances, lectures, tours and experiments for people of all ages.

Helping people take the right medicine at the right time was a particular consideration in creating the glasses.

"We know there is a broad spectrum of difficulties that the elderly face, but medicine compliance is a big issue for them," said Dr Xu, a scientist at the Institute for Infocomm Research. "We want to help them live more independently."

The device is linked to a smartphone which tells the user when to take his medicine. At the same time, an image of the medication appears on the glasses, before the application on the smartphone helps to verify that the person has picked up the right bottle.

Singapore is set to have 900,000 seniors by 2030, more than double the current number, and research to help people age well is ramping up in the country.

Commenting on the new device, Dr Philip Yap, senior consultant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's Department of Geriatric Medicine, said: "This will be useful for elderly (persons) who are motivated, (and) who understand the importance of medication compliance."

Although such devices might seem alien to old people now, they are starting to gain popularity, said Dr Xu, adding that his glasses will be user-friendly.

Professor Tomaso Poggio of Massachusetts Institute of Tech- nology's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences oversaw the development of the devices as part of the Singapore research facility's Revive (Reverse-Engineering Visual Intelligence for Cognitive Enhancement) programme.

Within the next two years, Prof Poggio said, the group also hopes to develop wearable devices that can help people with poor eyesight to recognise objects in the environment and find their way around, among other things.

"I don't think you'll convince everyone but the (market) penetration will probably be significant," he said.

This article was first published on July 10, 2015.
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