A £2.7m project is to use artificial intelligence to adapt and personalise live radio, with the aim of transforming life for people living alone with dementia.
Radio Me will address key causes of hospital admission for people with dementia, such as agitation and not taking medication correctly. As a result, it is hoped quality of life will improve, and people will be able to remain living independently at home for longer.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded project will capitalise on the popularity of radio among the age group most likely to be living with dementia, developing a way to seamlessly 'remix' live digital broadcast so that listeners will receive personalised reminders, information and music.
Running for 50 months, Radio Me will be trialled among people with dementia in Cambridgeshire and Sussex. The project, which is being led by researchers from the University of Plymouth, is a partnership between the University's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), and the Centre for Dementia Studies at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, the Glasgow Interactive Systems group at the University of Glasgow, and the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University.
Using a commercial bio-bracelet to measure physical signs like heart rate, as well as wireless speakers and an internet connection, Radio Me output will be produced in users' homes by artificial intelligence software to be created at the University of Plymouth. An electronic diary completed by users and their carers will also be a key element.
The project includes a substantial ethical element, with significant time and money built in to ensure the technology is developed and co-designed with people with dementia, and is not open to misuse.
Professor Eduardo Miranda and Dr Alexis Kirke from the University of Plymouth are leading the project.
Professor Miranda said: "Radio Me builds on research carried out as part of our previous EPSRC-funded project into a Brain Computer Music Interface, as well as our work on artificial intelligence, music influencing emotion, and the University's long-running involvement in shaping national policy on dementia. Helping people with dementia to stay in their homes for as long as possible, even if they live alone, is a key aim of the project. Technology exists to display reminders about vital daily tasks, but research has shown older adults find modern electronic devices difficult to use, and people with dementia have particular problems."
Dr Kirke said: "Radio Me will create and use cutting-edge technology, but users will experience it through the familiar and reassuring medium of radio. It is an exciting and hugely innovative project, and a real vote of confidence in our research and the University.
"Our partners in Radio Me are all experts in their fields. Some, like BBC Radio Devon and the Alzheimer's Society, we have worked with in the past, and we look forward to continuing these relationships and building new ones as the project progresses."
Professor Sube Banerjee of Brighton and Sussex Medical School said: "Dementia is the great health and social care challenge of the 21st century. This project is a fantastic example of the potential for interdisciplinary working, bringing together experts in science and technology with those with clinical expertise and with people with dementia themselves, to create seamless interventions that enable people to live well with dementia."
Jorg Fachner, Professor of Music, Health and the Brain at Anglia Ruskin University, said: "Our role is to investigate precisely how people with dementia can benefit from this interactive radio experience. Music therapists at Anglia Ruskin University and partner organisations will use biomarker responses to fine-tune playlists in order to deliver emotional and cognitive stimulation, and evaluate exactly how interactive music interventions, using AI, can benefit people with dementia in their own homes and in assisted living environments."
The non-academic partners in Radio Me are: Sussex Partnership NHS Trust; the Alzheimer's Society; national older person's charity MHA; Bauer Media, the UK's largest digital radio broadcaster; and CereProc, which specialises in expressive speech synthesis and voice cloning. BBC Research and Development and BBC Radio Devon are also heavily involved in the project.
Colin Capper, Head of Research Development and Evaluation at Alzheimer's Society, said: "We're proud to be partners of this cutting-edge technology, which could really help to improve the quality of life for around 850,000 people living with dementia and help them to live at home for longer. We can't prevent, cure or, even slow down the progression of dementia, but while we remain dedicated to finding a cure, it's important we also find ways to support people to live well with the condition today. We need to harness technologies like artificial intelligence and we're confident Radio Me will be a hit - it offers practical as well as personalised support, which is vital as everyone's journey with dementia is different. We're excited about what this project will reveal about the potential impact of technology on the lives of people with dementia."
The EPSRC and commercial funders have granted a total of £2.43m to Radio Me.
How Radio Me might work:
A user switching on the radio in the morning might find their usual local station. However, at a point dictated by the electronic diary, and at the start of a song, a DJ-like voice could override the real DJ and remind the listener to have a drink, take medicine, attend a memory café or anything else.
Another time, Radio Me might detect that the listener is becoming agitated via their bio-bracelet readings. The software could then override the scheduled song choice and select a song from the user's personal library, known to be likely to calm them. Calming material could continue to be played until Radio Me detects the user is no longer agitated.