There's no place like home.

by Heidy Sveistrup
CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, Bruyère Research Institute
VP, Research and Academic Affairs

Photo of Heidi SveistrupThink about the relief you feel as you walk through your front door after a long day of work; the comfort of your familiar surroundings after a vacation away. The warmth of the memories you’ve created in that space, wrapped around you like a favourite blanket. Now imagine all of that being stripped away – at a time when you’re already navigating the frightening changes that accompany Alzheimer’s disease.

For too long, memory loss has meant people being taken out of their homes earlier than they would prefer. There haven’t been viable alternatives. The disorientation of dementia sadly means people often become a safety risk to themselves. There is a constant fear associated with the disease’s progress: will a loved one wander out the front door in the middle of the night? Will they leave the stove on for hours, not noticing until a fire breaks out? What if they fall and can’t remember how to call 911?

With your help, Bruyère Continuing Care is pioneering research that will help to alleviate these worries… And keep people living safely at home for longer. As the CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of the Bruyère Research Institute and VP, Research and Academic Affairs, I am amazed by the strides we are making in memory care thanks to your support.

One of the most exciting innovations being studied at Bruyère right now is a partnership with Carleton University and the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence known as SAM3 – Sensors and Analytics for Monitoring Mobility and Memory. SAM3 is a national innovation hub set up to simulate an apartment environment at our Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital site. The laboratory is equipped with a myriad of smart sensors designed to transmit information to researchers and clinicians about the health and wellbeing of a patient in the space as they go about their regular daily activities.
The knowledge we gain in the hub will have huge practical applications outside the laboratory environment. As we optimize the use of these smart sensors to monitor and analyze patient data, we are figuring out how the same can be done in a patient’s home in order to keep them living independently for longer.

There’s never been a more vital time to invest in Alzheimer’s research. By 2031, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in our country is expected to reach a staggering 937,000. That’s almost the population of the entire city of Ottawa! That’s why the developments being made with the SAM3 sensor technology are so very exciting. We have a real opportunity to revolutionize how memory loss is tracked and treated.
It’s difficult for physicians to rely on the self-reporting of patients and their families in terms of how memory loss has progressed over the years. There’s a tendency to only recall the “status quo” of the last few months, versus the slow decline over time. Using sensor technology will give doctors hard data to flag changes in patient patterns.

These sensors can be incorporated throughout the home in truly remarkable ways. Pressure-sensitive mats and sensors placed under the bed mattress can tell us if patients are balanced in how they distribute their weight as they get out of bed – or if they’re at risk for a fall. They can tell us if someone is restless at night due to higher pain levels or if they’re more likely to develop bed sores because they aren’t moving enough. As someone moves around the home environment, pressure-sensitive flooring will track the speed, stride length, and sway as they walk. Again, you’re getting data about fall risk, which is a huge problem for seniors. Hip, pelvic, and wrist fractures are all common after falls and can severely impact mobility and independence.

Assistive devices are another important opportunity for monitoring. Grab bars, transfer poles, and walkers can all be equipped with sensors to measure how much pressure someone is applying and whether people are distributing their weight evenly as they use the device. We’re looking at fall risks, and we’re looking for changes in mobility over time.

Some of the most exciting innovation comes in the tracking and analysis of memory functions. A smart fridge can remind people to close the door, so they don’t spoil the food that’s inside. But this also opens up future possibilities to leverage that smart technology. Soon the fridge will not only remind you to close it, but it will also be able to tell if you haven’t opened it in a while. And maybe then that’s actually a flag – because you always take milk in your coffee. Maybe it means you’ve fallen, so the fridge can actually ask: “Are you okay? You haven’t opened me to get the milk for your coffee. Do you need me to call someone for you?” Or it means you’ve forgotten to eat because you’ve lost track of time, so the fridge can prompt you. “It is noon, would you like to make lunch now?”

Integrating technology like this will make it possible for people to stay in their own home for longer – because they have this system that’s set up specifically to remind them of things they might otherwise forget, and to be able to tell if their condition is declining or if they’re perhaps in danger.
The earlier we can integrate this kind of technology, the better the odds of a patient being able to stay home longer. I think about patients like Katherine Suter, a former social worker who was aware of her memory changes early on. Today she’s still living a very full life because she was able to start treatment before her condition really deteriorated. We want that kind of success for all our patients! Perhaps the most comforting feature of the SAM3 Apartment is the ability to monitor night-time wandering. There is a tendency amongst Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to really lose track of time, so they’ll think at 2:00am that it’s actually 2:00pm and maybe they’ll open the front door and go for a walk… But then they can’t find their way home.

As you can imagine, this is tremendously stressful for the people living with them. They’re not getting to sleep because they’re constantly waking up and checking to make sure their loved one hasn’t wandered off.

With sensor technology, we’re able to track when someone gets out of bed – and what they do after waking up. After all, if they’re just getting out of bed to use the washroom, or even wandering out to sit in a common space, then there’s no safety issue. A night light will turn on and maybe they’ll be prompted to go back to bed.

But if they head for the door, then an alert can be sent to the caretaker. So unless that alert is coming, the other person is able to sleep through the night. This makes a huge difference when it comes to their quality of life and ability to continue supporting their loved one in living at home. I’m so excited by the promise this technology holds. And I’m so grateful to have the support of wonderful donors like you as we reach new frontiers in memory loss research.

The answers we uncover through research today hold the key to a future where Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are able to live more fully and independently for longer. That’s a benefit to them, to their families, and to our health care system as a whole. But we can’t do it without you!

Your donation will help give people the comfort and stability of home for longer… And the very best in memory loss care each and every time they walk through the doors of Bruyère.

Thank you for your generosity.

Heidi Sveistrup
CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, Bruyère Research Institute
VP, Research and Academic Affairs