Physicians want AI tech to help dementia patients live longer

Two-thirds of UK GPs want to prescribe tech for their dementia patients to help them remain independent and live longer.

More than two-thirds (67%) of GPs in the UK would like to be able to prescribe assistive technologies to their patients when they are diagnosed with dementia, suggests new research published today.

The nationally representative poll of GPs was conducted by the Longitude Prize on Dementia, which is funded by Alzheimer’s Society and Innovate UK, and delivered by Challenge Works. It sought to better understand appetite amongst primary care doctors for the use of technology in helping people and families affected by dementia.

Longevity.Technology: The poll found family doctors were especially keen to see new technologies designed specifically to help people living with dementia maintain their independence. Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) GPs believe that people living with dementia who can live in their own homes will live more fulfilling lives, with over three quarters (77%) believing it will help people to live longer.

However, 83% of GPs voiced frustration that their dementia patients do not receive enough support at home. While there are some existing technologies designed for people with dementia, most focus on monitoring a person living with the condition rather than supporting them to help them maintain independence for longer through helping them continue doing day-to-day activities, a concern shared by 86% of the GPs surveyed.

Dame Louise Robinson, GP and Professor of Primary Care and Ageing, Newcastle University said: “GPs increasingly ‘prescribe’ non-drug interventions such as counselling and social prescribing for people living with long term conditions; technology, especially if it is used as part of a package of person-centred support, can help people with dementia live at home longer which is the ultimate goal.”

Kate Lee, CEO of Alzheimer’s Society which is a co-funder of the Longitude Prize on Dementia, said: “It’s encouraging that many GPs join us in seeing the huge potential that tech could bring for the 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia. Dementia is a progressive condition set to affect one in three people born today, so we must think more broadly about how to end the devastation it causes, by helping people manage their symptoms and stay independent for longer.

“It’s exciting that soon we may have potential new treatments that could slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, but alongside this we need to urgently push forward ways of helping people with dementia right now. We believe tech involving people with dementia, for people with dementia, can be a key way of doing this.”

George MacGinnis, Healthy Ageing Challenge Director of Innovate UK which is a co-funder of the Longitude Prize on Dementia said: “The UK has an ageing population with more than 11 million people over 65. With this comes an increase in the number of people living with dementia. Assistive technologies that can deploy artificial intelligence to adapt to the changing needs of people living with dementia could offer affordable solutions that help people remain independent in their own homes for many more years than at present. This poll shows the vast majority of family doctors want to prescribe them to their patients with dementia.”

Assistive technologies that enable independence

Remaining at home can present challenges for people with dementia, with issues including loss of confidence or developing anxiety when navigating their local area, remembering to take medication or struggling to recognise people. 76% of GPs surveyed worry that their patients may become trapped in their own homes because of anxiety and fear about getting lost.

Many of the GPs polled believe their patients would benefit from responsive tech such as an intuitive app to help them navigate their community, tech that reminds people to take medications, or smart glasses that could tell them who they are looking at.

Challenging the stereotype that older people are tech-averse

Challenging the outdated stereotype that older people are tech-averse, half (49%) of GPs say that the majority of their early-stage dementia patients use technology in their everyday lives.

Many GPs are already advising their dementia patients to use existing technology to manage their conditions, with 64% of family doctors recommending tech-related hacks. These could include adding simple reminders to take medications on phones and smart speakers. 69% say their patients with dementia are increasingly relying on technology as a memory tool, such as storing relationship details in their phone contacts (for example, “Anne – daughter”).

Need for adaptive technologies for progressive conditions

The findings also highlight the need for innovators to consider the progressive nature of dementia in the design of new assistive technologies so that they adapt to the person’s changing condition.

87% of GPs believe the majority of their patients with early-stage dementia would benefit from technology that was designed for the condition – however 84% say that technologies supposedly designed for all (like cellphones, tablets and TVs) are not designed with patients living with dementia in mind.

Longitude Prize on Dementia semi-finalists

The Longitude Prize on Dementia is a £4.42 million ($ 5.12m) prize to drive the creation of personalised, technology-based tools that are co-created with people living with the early stages of dementia, helping them live independent, more fulfilled lives and be able to do the things they enjoy. In total, £3.42 million will be awarded in seed funding and development grants to the most promising solutions, with a £1 million first prize to be awarded in 2026.

In June 2023, it announced 24 semi-finalists developing new assistive technologies for people living with dementia, each receiving grants of £80,000. They include virtual reality devices to reduce anxiety, smart-glasses that tell a user what they are looking at, technology to help fill in broken speech as someone loses their speaking abilities, an augmented reality navigation app and music therapy that reacts to an individual’s biorhythms so it works even if they can no longer interact directly with the technology.

Between now and next summer, they will work with people living with dementia and their carers to refine their solutions before the five most promising ideas progress to the final stages of the competition.

More information about the Longitude Prize on Dementia and the 24 semi-finalists can be found on their website HERE.

Photograph: Care City (UK)