Bijan Najafi, Ph.D. (320x240)
Bijan Najafi, Ph.D.

Monitoring cognitive decline following a dementia diagnosis is important in caring for a dementia patient. However, it can be difficult for family and caregivers to monitor these symptoms, whether they are near or far. A new $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to Baylor College of Medicine in collaboration with Biosensics LLC is looking at designing a smart home environment powered by a wearable device and connected smart tags that would help monitor day-to-day tasks of a dementia patient.

“We need to think about innovative solutions to how these patients can continue aging in place without moving to an institution,” said Dr. Bijan Najafi, professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor and director of clinical research in the division of vascular surgery and endovascular surgery. Najafi, a biomedical engineer, is the director of the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP) at Baylor. “How we can track further cognitive decline in these patient populations will help us create a better interface for doctors, patients and caregivers to identify the needed support to promote aging in place or keeping them at their own home.”

Traditionally, patients need to come into a clinic and have a thorough neuropsychiatric evaluation to identify their level of cognition.

Najafi’s team; however, is collaborating with neurologists, neuropsychiatrists, geriatricians and engineers to create a smart-home environment to look at a patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living such as shopping, laundry and cooking. The ability to complete these basic tasks is a strong indicator of cognitive decline and independence. Physicians in various specialties will provide input on the criteria for the technology.

The researchers plan to use previously developed technology, a pendant that patients can wear every day that monitors physical activity and falls, and adding smart tags to different objects in the home, such as the refrigerator door or a potted plant. The caregiver can remotely monitor how the individual interacts with different objects at home and whether there is a deterioration in performing the tasks.

Detecting cognitive decline early can have an impact on access to effective interventions that can address motor and cognitive performance issues.

“This is another example of the fruit of interdisciplinary collaboration,” Najafi said. “There are a lot of unmet needs in the aging population, and if we closely collaborate to address these unmet needs, we can help reduce the cost of and improve the quality of care for this patient population in a timely manner.”