Partnering to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia

by Debra Bordignon

04 September 2020

As the age of the global population continues to rise, dementia has become a critical healthcare and societal issue. The World Health Organisation estimates that 50 million people have dementia today and another 10 million new cases are diagnosed annually.

In affluent countries, the trajectory is steep due to ageing populations. In 2015, the economic impact of direct medical care, social care, and informal care was USD 818 billion or 1.1% of global GDP. Without a cure, one in five of us will develop dementia and all of us will be impacted as a carer or loved one. Such socio-economic impacts compel us to find preventions, cures, and solutions to dealing with dementia.

While medical research aspires to help prevent the onset, to treat the progression of the disease, and even find a cure, technology-enabled innovations can assist with maintaining cognitive functions and improving the safety and quality of daily life for people living with dementia.

As a global company we have a responsibility to give back to society, and as part of the NTT Group, we’re in a unique position to find innovative ways to use technology to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. In 2019, NTT and two universities forged a comprehensive partnership agreement with a shared vision: Dementia Care. Led from Japan and Australia, the partners – NTT R&D, NTT Ltd. in Australia, Deakin University, and Western Sydney University (WSU) – are conducting joint research and accelerating the translation to innovative solutions. We aim to create modular and natural solutions for people living with dementia and their support structures.

Taking a global view

We’re not just looking at work being done at a local scale; the combined team is collaborating around the world to increase the global impact of their efforts.

There are several areas that we believe will benefit from this partnership, but we’re looking particularly at ways we can improve the quality of life for people living with dementia, as well as improve the training and resources we provide to carers and families.

One area of research is ways that technology can support the digitization and evocation of life history and experiences to assist people to retain their memories and remain engaged in social and family conversations. Memory loss leads to isolation, frustration, depression, and withdrawal and this accelerates cognitive deterioration, so by creating multisensory digital memories, we may be able to extend quality of life.

Another opportunity is the use of biological and environmental sensing technologies to discover the patterns of a person’s physical and mental states and respond to changes that indicate distress or deterioration. This would be based on developing individualized understandings and responses, rather than generalized algorithmic models. There are already numerous solutions that monitor physical safety, yet there is a gap in sensing and AI focused on the quality of daily activities and emotional state.

People using technology

Proper training is critical for the provision of quality care

The area of training is another focus for the partnership. It’s a sad reality that often the care of people living with dementia is left up to people who don’t have access to the training they need to deliver the best possible quality of care. They are low paid and low skilled.

The partners are already providing augmented and virtual reality experiences for the training of dementia carers, immersing them in ‘a day in the life’ of living with dementia symptoms. This has been shown to improve empathy and resultant quality of care. So, the scaling of these approaches and the systemic development of training curriculum and modular credentials for dementia care is a critical capability that interests the CPA partners.

Sharing knowledge and experience

The partnership between NTT and the Australian universities is especially important when it comes to addressing a global issue such as dementia.

This partnership brings together NTT’s cutting-edge technologies, Deakin’s software engineering expertise and applied AI labs, WSU’s human-machine interaction and cognitive science skills, and NTT Ltd. in Australia Global Centre of Excellence for Co-innovation. The current charter is to jointly research and progress commercialized solutions for both countries and to share these through NTT’s global companies.

We focus on measurable impacts, including societal and commercial value translation, with a time-to-value within three to five years.

We’ve found that to apply technology innovations to tackle global problems, you must consider variations in cultures and their responses to technology. There are many elements that work in one country but not in another, and to make a difference on a global scale we need to have an international perspective.

The ability of the researchers to test ideas in different countries will be crucial to the success of the partnership and our ability to make a real difference in tackling this critical issue.

Debra Bordignon

Debra Bordignon

CTO NTT Ltd. Australia