£4 million tech prize offers new hope to people living with dementia in Sussex
A Brighton carer has welcomed a new multi-million pound competition to find technology that supports people with early-stage dementia to live independently at home for longer. The Longitude Prize on Dementia is a £4.3 million prize pot partly funded by Alzheimer’s Society. It is calling for innovators to create breakthrough technologies that learn from a person living with dementia, adapting for their condition as it progresses to help maintain their independence.
In a new survey of people with family and friends living with dementia across South England, 64% say technology would become more important in the future for managing dementia. (Between 26 and 30 August 2022, Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 4,000 people. Of the sample, 846 participants had a family member or close friend with dementia. In the South (South West, South East and London), 427 respondents had a family member or close friend with dementia.) Three in five (61%) surveyed said they would feel less concerned about their relative’s safety if they had technology to help them live independently.
Shirley Williams, 80, who has Alzheimer’s disease, moved from Guyana in 1961 for a job as a nurse and midwife at Brighton General Hospital. Her husband, Bert Williams MBE, is eager to discover how the next technological advancements will help people in his position.
He explained: “Shirley and I met 59 years ago at a party in Brighton. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2017. We visited the GP after she began forgetting things on her to-do list or places she had been that week.
“It took a long time to accept, but we are now living life to the full and not letting dementia stop us. Shirley refused to use a mobile phone previously and if I switched the TV channel off, she would struggle getting it turned back on. But we now rely upon technology!
“Our smart speaker reminds me how many tablets to give Shirley at a particular time, as she has various ones and it becomes confusing what she has taken and when. Sometimes she would take a tablet and then forget, but technology helps overcome that potentially dangerous issue.
“We support anything that will make our lives easier in the next years and improve the situation for others that will be affected by dementia in future. That is why the Longitude fund is so exciting and we are fully behind it.
“Life in the aftermath of a dementia diagnosis can be difficult but knowing products will be created specifically with people like us in mind, is comforting. It will help those with dementia and their families live with less anxiety.”
A survey by Alzheimer’s Society revealed 85% of people said they would want to stay at home for as long as possible if diagnosed with dementia. People surveyed in the South said they benefitted from existing technology including monitoring devices, GPS tracking and phone reminders. There are 900,000 living with dementia in the UK, while more than 26,500 are estimated to be living with the condition across Sussex.
Samantha Smith, Dementia Connect Local Service Manager for East Sussex said: “We know people with dementia want to live independent, fulfilled lives doing the things they love. Our research shows people feel that technology could play a crucial part in helping them live the lives they want.
“Most existing technology for people with dementia is designed to keep them safe or give carers peace of mind. But there are huge opportunities to harness technology to help fill in the gaps in their brain and thinking as their condition progresses.
“The results showed many felt technology, like facial recognition, could help them communicate when their speech declines, but would not be available in their loved ones’ lifetime. However, it already exists in the apps and smart technology we use every day.
“We could repurpose the software of TikTok and WhatsApp to help people put a name to a face or remember a word. The new Longitude Prize on Dementia will open up huge possibilities in this area, making technology work better for people living with dementia and their families.”
To find out more and enter the Longitude Prize on Dementia, go to dementia.longitudeprize.org
Entries close on 26 January 2023.