University launches Salford Institute for Dementia

Monday 9 December 2013
Virtual Reality Centre
The University of Salford's Virtual Reality Centre

Today (Monday 9 December 2013) the University of Salford is launching a ground-breaking research institute dedicated to improving the lives of people living with dementia.

The UK’s ageing population and growing numbers of people with dementia have prompted the creation of the Salford Institute for Dementia to channel the University’s expertise into enabling people to stay independent for longer while minimising distress and discomfort to themselves, their carers and family and friends.

There are 800,000 people with dementia in the UK and the number is set to double over the next 40 years. The associated cost to the UK economy is £23 billion a year, which is expected to reach over £50 billion by 2040. Worldwide, the number of people living with dementia is set to treble by 2050, from 44 million to 135 million.

The Institute will bring together academics from across the University to investigate how the disciplines of health and social care, the built environment, product design, virtual reality, robotics and media and the arts can work together to improve the dignity,  independence and quality of life of people with dementia.

One of the ways the Institute will contribute to dementia research is by exploring the potential uses of technology, and software is being developed which will use virtual reality to evoke memories and emotional responses. At the early stages of dementia, people could be filmed talking to and embracing a loved one. When their memory fades they will be able to experience the moment again in a 3D multi-sensory environment which could trigger the original thoughts and feelings.

Another technology which is already being developed is robotics. Antonio Espingardeiro, a PhD researcher at the University, has created a robot which reminds elderly people to take their medication and to exercise. It can also provide 24-hour emergency notifications and directly connect to carers or GPs through video conference or SMS.

Design will also be used to help people living with dementia by creating environments that support everyday living in settings such as hospital wards, homes and gardens with the aim of maximising independence and reducing frustration.

On Wednesday (11 December 2013) the UK will host a G8 summit on dementia in London, highlighting the need to take co-ordinated action on a global scale. The Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP, Labour MP for Salford and Eccles and Vice Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Dementia, is attending the summit and has been appointed to chair the Institute’s Advisory Board.

Professor Maggie Pearson, the University’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Public Benefit and Dean of the College of Health & Social Care, said: “Salford’s research strengths across a range of disciplines will be harnessed by the Institute to make a difference to the lives of people living with dementia. There is no currently cure for this degenerative  condition, so it is vital that we help people to maintain their independence for as long as possible, and to assist them in living comfortably when they are in the later stages of the condition.

“The G8 summit is putting dementia high on the political agenda but meaningful action must follow. The Salford Institute for Dementia is an important step towards meeting that challenge.

“With Hazel Blears as Chair of the Advisory Board, and the influence of the Board’s other eminent members, we will be working closely with national opinion leaders and policy makers to make a difference to everyday lives of people affected by dementia.”

The Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP said: “I have called upon the Government to ensure that the quality of life for people with dementia is right up there as a priority at the summit together with improving diagnosis and finding a cure for this awful disease.

“So I am thrilled that the University of Salford, which has already contributed valuable work around care and support, is establishing this Institute.

“I hope this summit will be just the beginning of a huge effort to harness expertise from around the world and the Institute has a fantastic opportunity to be at the forefront of that with its exciting, groundbreaking research."

A donation from the Medlock Charitable Trust has supported the launch of the Institute.