There are a growing number of mobile phones, watches and electronic devices which can be worn on the body to track aspects of health and well-being, such as daily steps, sleep and exercise. Dementia researchers think that these devices could potentially be used as part of future research projects, for example to help spot changes in daily activity that may signal the early symptoms of dementia. We asked a range of older people, including people living with dementia and their carers, to participate in interactive discussions about how future participants might find using these devices as part of research projects. We also invited volunteers to borrow a range of devices to test at home, giving them further insights. Discussions revealed that people were generally supportive of this type of research, provided they gave informed consent and that devices were discreet, comfortable and easy to use. They also valued technical support and regular feedback on study progress to encourage ongoing participation. These findings were used to develop a pool of devices for researchers, with computer software and written guidance to help plan, design and support studies. Our work shows that when given the right opportunities, people who are affected by dementia can provide valuable insights that can enhance the design, delivery and quality of future research.
Background Increasingly, researchers are recognising the potential for connected health devices, including smartphones and smartwatches, to generate high resolution data about patterns of daily activity and health outcomes. One aim of the Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) project is to provide researchers with a secure means to collect, collate and link data generated by such devices, thereby accelerating this type of research in the field of dementia. We aimed to involve members of the public in discussions about the acceptability and feasibility of different devices and research designs to inform the development of a device pool, software platform and written guidance to support future studies. Methods Over 30 people attended a series of interactive workshops, drop-in sessions and meetings in Greater Manchester. This included people living with dementia and cognitive impairments, carers and people without memory problems. Discussions were tailored to suit different audiences and focused on the feasibility and acceptability of a range of different wearable devices and research designs. We also invited volunteers to borrow a device to test at home, enabling further insights from hands-on interactions with devices. Results Discussions revealed that people were supportive of connected health dementia research in principle, provided they gave informed consent and that devices were discreet, comfortable and easy to use. Moreover, they recommended technical support and regular feedback on study progress to encourage ongoing participation. Conclusion By using a range of discussion-based and practical activities, we found it was feasible to involve people affected by dementia and use their insights to shape the development of a software platform and device pool to support future connected health dementia research. We recommend that researchers planning such studies in future pay adequate attention to designing suitable participant information, technical support and mechanisms of providing study progress updates to support sustained engagement from participants.