CHIPPING NORTON, United Kingdom — Dementia patients could continue to live at home and still receive the care they need when they need it — thanks to a pair of socks. According to researchers from the University of Exeter, these artificial intelligence (AI) powered smart socks track the heart rate, sweat levels, and motion of the people wearing them.
The aptly named “SmartSocks” would allow caregivers to identify when vulnerable people are in distress. Trials of the new socks by tech start-up Milbotix are set to begin soon, in both homes and nursing facilities.
Unlike trackers currently used for similar purposes, SmartSocks look exactly like real socks, removing the stress and discomfort of bulky monitors which patients often want to remove. They’re even machine washable, don’t require charging, and can check the cognitive state of patients, which current devices are not able to do.
The socks were invented through a collaboration between researchers at Milbotix and the University of Exeter. SmartSock inventor Dr. Zeke Steer, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Milbotix, came up with the concept after witnessing his great-grandmother’s battle with dementia.
“I came up with the idea for SmartSocks while volunteering in a dementia care home. The current product is the result of extensive research, consultation, and development,” Dr. Steer says, according to a statement from SWNS.
“So far SmartSocks have been incredibly well-received in care settings, and I’m excited to see what impact our products can have in providing early alerts of agitation and falls, enabling care home staff to take early intervention,” the inventor continues.
“The foot is actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks are a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day, our research shows that socks can accurately recognize signs of stress – which could really help not just those with dementia, but their carers too.”
A second study into the device is being run by the UK Dementia Research Institute Care Research & Technology Center at Imperial College London, aiming to create a “smart home” service called Minder that allows dementia patients to live at home.
A trial using the SmartSocks involving 15 people living at home with dementia is already in the works, while caregiving facilities in the United Kingdom are already testing out the devices in homes run by Southern Healthcare.
“I think the idea of SmartSocks™ is an excellent way forward to help detect when a person is starting to feel anxious or fearful,” says Margot Whittaker, Director of Nursing and Compliance at Southern Healthcare group.
Sarah Daniels, Health and Social Care Lead at the UK DRI Care Research & Technology Center at Imperial College London, says that the technology is an “exciting” development in an increasingly important sector.
“Wearable devices are fast becoming an important way of monitoring health and activity,” Daniels says, according to SWNS. “At our center, we have been trialing a range of wristbands and watches. However, these devices present a number of challenges for older adults and people affected by dementia.”
“They don’t hold charge for long; people often remove and subsequently misplace them. We have also found that those who like to wear a watch, prefer to wear their own and that those with more fragile skin, are at risk of pressure areas and skin irritation.”
“SmartSocks offer a new and promising alternative which could avoid many of these issues,” Daniels adds.
South West News Service writer Ed Cullinane contributed to this report.