The NHS is to use energy smart meters to monitor dementia patients in their homes.
The devices will track patients’ daily routines, such as when they boil the kettle, cook dinner or turn the washing machine on.
They will flag up any sudden change in behaviour which could indicate an illness, a fall or a decline in their mental state. The meters will be able to send alerts to family members or carers, who can pop round to check if the patient is all right.
Experts say the devices will enable patients to live independently for longer without going into care, and prevent avoidable admissions to A&E.
Smart meters monitor households’ energy use in real time and send the readings directly to suppliers, putting an end to estimated bills.
Ministers have promised to install the devices in every home by 2020 to reduce energy consumption, but the rollout is massively over budget and behind schedule.
Privacy campaigners warn that the meters will hand suppliers a ‘honeypot’ of data which could be sold on to marketing firms or fall into the hands of hackers.
Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University and the Mersey Care NHS Trust plan to carry out the initial dementia trial on 50 patients, beginning in October.
This will test the ability of the meters to monitor patients’ health and the general progression of their disease. If successful, the trial will be extended to involve 1,000 patients across four NHS trusts.
The smart meters involved in the dementia study can monitor patients’ energy use every ten seconds. They will be connected to a central computer system which will learn patients’ daily routines, such as when they normally use certain electrical appliances.
Any sudden changes – such as not boiling the kettle at the same time each morning or turning lights on in the middle of the night – will trigger an alert.
Dr Carl Chalmers, of Liverpool John Moores University, who is leading the trial, said the devices had ‘huge potential’ to improve dementia patients’ lives.
About 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and this number is expected to double over the next 30 years as the population ages.
Up to 70 per cent of care home residents have the condition and an estimated 50,000 dementia patients are admitted to A&E each year as a result of preventable illnesses.