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CanAssist developing technologies to help people remain independent longer

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Thousands of British Columbians living with dementia and other challenging conditions will benefit from innovative new technologies being developed by CanAssist at the University of Victoria.

From left: Minister Michelle Stilwell; Minister Terry Lake; Cheryl Beach of Island Health; Leo Spalteholz of CanAssist; and Jim Mann.Prototypes of several technologies aimed at helping people stay in their homes for as long as safely possible were demonstrated May 11 during a funding announcement by the BC Minister of Health, the honourable Terry Lake. One technology, the Wandering Deterrent System, uses computer screens that flash personalized video messages to discourage a person from leaving the house late at night – a fairly common occurrence among those with dementia.

“The Wandering Deterrent System would not only allow me to stay in my home longer. It would give me quality of life and independence,” said Jim Mann, who lives with Alzheimer's disease and was on hand to help demonstrate the system.

“I'm a huge fan of the Wandering Deterrent System because it is personal – with the caregiver visually suggesting the action to take – and it's non-intrusive.”

During the event, Minister Terry Lake announced $3 million in new funding, which will enable CanAssist to develop a new innovative technology that will begin benefitting thousands of people across the province starting in 2016. CanAssist is working with Ministry staff to determine the theme or focus for this most recent investment in the development of new and innovative technologies. The funding will also be used to launch a new online service for individuals and organizations looking for information about existing and emerging technologies that help people with a range of disabilities.

In March 2014, CanAssist received $2 million from the Health Ministry for the CanStayHome program, which will result in a suite of innovative technologies that support vulnerable B.C. seniors and others to stay in their homes longer, enhancing their well-being and quality of life, while at the same time reducing pressure on the province's health system.

Leo Spalteholz demonstrates the Phone-In Monitoring System.The Wandering Deterrent System is one of the technologies being developed and tested as part of CanStayHome. Another is the Phone-In Monitoring System, which allows family members and other caregivers to check in on someone with dementia remotely, without invasive monitoring equipment and costly subscriptions. The system uses basic landline phone connectivity already in the home, along with a small number of sensors. These sensors monitor the individual's presence in various rooms and also indicate if the door to outside opens. Simply by calling the home phone and entering a code, the caregiver of a person with dementia gets a summary of activity, such as: “Mom is in bed and has been there for 30 minutes” or “Mom is in the bathroom; her last activity was detected five minutes ago” or “There has been no activity for four hours” and so on.

“We can all relate to the importance of personal independence, which is why government is committed to ensuring supports for people with disabilities and seniors,” said Minister Lake. “Funding the development of technology to support independence so people can stay safely and comfortably at home puts patients' needs first and contributes to a better quality of life.”

CanAssist client Gordon Jones chats with ministers Lake and Stilwell about his Zero-Gravity Arm Support.CanAssist Executive Director Robin Syme said the most recent funding will help her team extend the benefits of innovative technologies for people with disabilities across the province.

“Our team is very excited to work with Ministry staff, as well as the five regional health authorities, to begin researching and developing innovative yet highly practical technologies that will benefit many British Columbians and their families for years to come,” she said.

(Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Michelle Stilwell and Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors Darryl Plecas also spoke at the funding announcement.)

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