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The Alzheimer’s Society estimates there will be 1.6 million people with dementia in the UK by 2040, costing the UK £34.7 billion a year. Meanwhile Government statistics show that autism affects 700,000 people, around 1% of the UK population – 15-30% of whom are non-verbal part or all the time.
Inventor Dr Zeke Steer quit his job so he could find a way to help people like his great grandmother, who became anxious and aggressive because of her dementia. Dr Steer investigated how wearable technologies and artificial intelligence could help his great grandmother’s symptoms. He studied for a PhD at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, which is run by the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol, alongside volunteering at a dementia care home working closely with staff, relatives, and residents to better understand the effects and treatment of dementia.
Milbotix smart socks track heart rate, sweat levels and motion to give insights on the wearer’s wellbeing – most importantly how anxious the person is feeling. They look and feel like normal socks, do not need charging, are machine washable and provide a steady stream of data to care workers, who can easily see analyse metrics on an app. Current alternative products on the market are wearable wrist straps, which can stigmatise or even cause more stress.
Dr Steer said: “The foot is actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks are a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day. Our research shows that the socks can accurately recognise signs of stress – which could really help not just those with dementia and autism – but their carers too. We were really impressed at the potential of this assisted technology to predict impending agitation and help alert staff to intervene before escalation into distressed behaviour. Using modern assistive technology like smart socks can help enable people living with dementia to retain their dignity and have better quality outcomes for their day-to-day life.”
Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bristol said, “It is fantastic to see Zeke using the skills he learnt with us to improve the wellbeing of some of those most in need. The innovative research that Zeke has undertaken has the potential to help millions live better lives. We hope to see Milbotix flourish.”
While volunteering Dr Steer hit upon the idea of Milbotix, which he launched as a business in February 2020. Milbotix is currently looking to work with innovative social care organisations to refine and evaluate the smart socks. Dr Steer is growing the business, testing the socks with people living with mid to late stage dementia and developing the technology before beginning a funding round and bringing the product to market next year.
SETsquared’s Scale-Up Programme has been supporting this by helping the company bid for major health-related grant funding. This has included providing a bid writer to support with an application to the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) i4i Product Development Award with collaborators Thrive Wearables, University of the West of England, University of Exeter, Imperial College London, and the NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.
The Alzheimer’s Society is helping fund the smart socks development through their Accelerator Programme, providing innovation support and help to test what it described as a ‘brilliant product’.
Read more about the support businesses can receive from the Scale-Up Programme.
For more information about Milbotix, contact Jack Pitts: [email protected]/07977 983547
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