By Martha Smith Anderson

Anderson is a faculty member at the at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in the Interprofessional Department.

Researchers from across the globe gathered July 14-17 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® 2019 (AAIC® 2019) in Los Angeles. The largest gathering of Alzheimer’s and dementia researchers, it was an inspiring and hopeful week as clinical trial results, information on potential new diagnostics and research on care innovations offered new insights around Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As an Alzheimer’s/dementia clinician and researcher, I know the work we’re doing will lead to effective treatments, preventions, and one day a cure. Funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research by the federal government and the Alzheimer’s Association is at an all-time high and there is forward momentum in scientific progress. Our interprofessional team is funded by the National Science Foundation under grant IIS-1418622 and involves the UVa Engineering Link Lab, NCA&T systems engineering, VTCSOM, Carilion Clinic’s Center for Healthy Aging, and Richfield Living.

Behavioral and Environmental Sensing and Intervention for Dementia Caregiver Empowerment(BESI) is a system of body-worn and in-home sensors and a tablet application. Our research has been funded by the National Science Foundation under grant IIS-1418622 starting in 2014. BESI’s tablet application allows caregivers of persons with dementia (PWD) to record information from the home as ground truth support of the sensor data. BESI was developed to provide continuous, non-invasive dementia-related agitation assessment and environmental monitoring to detect early signals of agitation. The combined sensor and tablet data are used to model the detection and prediction of early signs of agitation and its possible environmental triggers. Our clinical team assesses both the caregiver and PWD in the home and as we have completed our third phase, we are offering just-in-time intervention suggestions to the caregiver when the technology detects possible agitation. It has recently proven 81% effective at detection. Our goal is to enable prompt caregiver intervention thereby reducing burden and improving caregiver self-efficacy. My poster presentation at AAIC was an ethnographic interpretation of the caregivers’ experiences as they care for a person with dementia experiencing agitation in their home. Qualitative analysis reveals an overall acceptance of all BESI technology systems, including some constructive input and challenges not met by participating with BESI. Caregiver acceptance of technology drives the continued improvement of the function and format of all elements of the BESI system in further research.

To keep this momentum going we need to continue to invest in diverse research. Please join me in asking your congress person for their support of a $350 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in fiscal year 2020.

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