On Tuesday 28th of June, ReMember-Me project organized its Second Open Workshop, about innovative ICT solutions for brain training, with a special focus on the Cypriot system and prevailing healthcare system and ICT market.
We had the great pleasure and honor to have with us Constantinos Christodoulides, MAT Noesis Cognitive Center & Tech Solutions, activities co-coordinator, Alexia Karaiskaki, vice president of the Alzheimer Association Larnaca, Skevi Kiriakou, social worker at the Alzheimer Association Larnaca, Dr.Marios Kyriazis, biomedical gerontologist, Stalo Zarouna, head of psychosocial department at Thalpori Unit, and Christos Xiourouppas, clinical psychologist at the Alzheimer Association Larnaca.
Participants confirmed it is the right time to promote not only in Cyprus, but in all Europe, a common elderly care approach and protocol with a special focus on dementia, from healthcare, caregivers’ and patients’ perspective, in which ReMember-Me system could nicely fit in. As Mrs Zarouna stated, early detection of dementia is key not only for patients but also for caregivers to promote early interventions and prevention of the progression of the disease as much as possible.
In Cyprus, there is no holistic approach for elder care and, as Mrs Karaiskaki highlighted, there are not sufficient services for people with dementia, with them being also stigmatized in the social realm. Dementia cases are usually not revealed to the social environment in fear of stigma, and families are reluctant to accept them. In this context, people with dementia are kept in home settings limiting their opportunities for meaningful stimulation and activities. Nevertheless, psychosocial interventions and support for family members towards acceptance of the issue and its implications, as well as the availability of tools assisting early diagnosis and therapeutic interventions could be of great value. An example, would be the incorporation of cognitive screening tools in a system, as healthcare systems normally do for other diseases (e.g. breast cancer).
Mrs Karaiskaki also anticipated that the World Health Organization, together with countries worldwide, are trying to promote dementia as a health priority, as discussed during the 35th Global Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International last June in London.
Participants stated that there is also a need for accurate statistics all over Europe about cognitive decline to develop realistic strategies at European and national level. If we know the prevalence, we will be able to act.
What is more, Dr Kyriazis highlighted that within the Cypriot health system, similarly to what happens in most of European countries, General Practitioners are not sufficiently trained towards the detection and treatment of dementia. There is a need therefore to educate them so that they know when to proceed to further screening and appropriate interventions or referrals. Constantinos Christodoulides commented also about the great need to incorporate more geriatricians in the system. In Cyprus, for example, there are only two geriatricians available.
Sotiria Moza, head of Applied R&D Dpt at Materia Group, asked the participants regarding the existing tools for early detection of cognitive decline, in order to know if they do consider that there is a real need. All participants confirmed there is still a great niche market for this kind of tools. Marina Polycarpou, Managing Director at Materia Group, also stated that though there are many tools for cognitive decline detection in the market, most patients tend to cover their symptoms which further hinders the early detection of dementia. Therefore, holistic tools like the ReMember-Me system could be very helpful considering that they holistically assess different psychosocial and cognitive aspects aspects, which is necessary for early detection. Furthermore, dementia in early stages is very tricky to spot.
Finally, Mrs Zarouna also suggested, the need to educate nurses and health personnel at hospitals on how to deal with people with dementia. We are lacking of protocols and training of healthcare professionals, especially considering the management of challenging dementia symptoms like wandering, aggression and repetitive behaviors.
After the open debate with experts, two innovative ICT solutions for brain training in older adults, results of AAL funded projects, were also presented: Prof. Doc. Ionut Anghel, Professor of Computer Science, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, first presented engAGE Project, an innovative system integrating social robots, IoT-based monitoring and machine learning techniques to combat and slow down cognitive decline progression. Secondly, Ronny Broekx project manager of Tele-Health Systems, presented Sense Garden Project, a virtual garden for persons with dementia to be used to connect through emotions by triggering the five senses of the person with dementia.
Last but not least, Mrs Moza presented the ReMember-Me system and James Robot, co-funded by the European Union under the AAL Programme (Protocol No aal-2019-6-188-CP), aiming to create a digitilized tool to detect and prevent cognitive decline early on and comprised of a tablet, a social robot and smart sensors for remote assessment and intervention at the older adult’s home. An interactive session followed during which participants took photos of the system and engaged in a Q&A session with a consortium providing helpful comments and feedback. Dissemination of workshop material through social media networks raised high levels of interest among family members and caregivers in Cyprus, who contacted consortium members to try the system and be enrolled in the upcoming trials.