The UK’s ageing population and growing numbers of people with dementia have prompted the creation of the Salford Institute for Dementia to channel the University’s expertise into enabling people to stay independent for longer while minimising distress and discomfort to themselves, their carers and family and friends.
There are 800,000 people with dementia in the UK and the number is set to double over the next 40 years. The associated cost to the UK economy is £23 billion a year, which is expected to reach over £50 billion by 2040. Worldwide, the number of people living with dementia is set to treble by 2050, from 44 million to 135 million.
The Institute will bring together academics from across the University to investigate how the disciplines of health and social care, the built environment, product design, virtual reality, robotics and media and the arts can work together to improve the dignity, independence and quality of life of people with dementia.
One of the ways the Institute will contribute to dementia research is by exploring the potential uses of technology, and software is being developed which will use virtual reality to evoke memories and emotional responses. At the early stages of dementia, people could be filmed talking to and embracing a loved one. When their memory fades they will be able to experience the moment again in a 3D multi-sensory environment which could trigger the original thoughts and feelings.
Another technology which is already being developed is robotics. Antonio Espingardeiro, a PhD researcher at the University, has created a robot which reminds elderly people to take their medication and to exercise. It can also provide 24-hour emergency notifications and directly connect to carers or GPs through video conference or SMS.
Design will also be used to help people living with dementia by creating environments that support everyday living in settings such as hospital wards, homes and gardens with the aim of maximising independence and reducing frustration.
Professor Maggie Pearson, the University’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Public Benefit and Dean of the College of Health & Social Care, said: “Salford’s research strengths across a range of disciplines will be harnessed by the Institute to make a difference to the lives of people living with dementia. There is no currently cure for this degenerative condition, so it is vital that we help people to maintain their independence for as long as possible, and to assist them in living comfortably when they are in the later stages of the condition.
“The G8 summit is putting dementia high on the political agenda but meaningful action must follow. The Salford Institute for Dementia is an important step towards meeting that challenge.
“With Hazel Blears as Chair of the Advisory Board, and the influence of the Board’s other eminent members, we will be working closely with national opinion leaders and policy makers to make a difference to everyday lives of people affected by dementia.”
A donation from the Medlock Charitable Trust has supported the launch of the Institute.