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Ontario Tech, Ontario shores partnering

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The goal for researchers at Ontario Shores and Ontario Tech is to make life easier for those suffering with dementia.

Ontario Tech and Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences are creating a Clinical Demonstration Unit (CDU) which both organizations hope will help to do just that.

The purpose of the collaborative unit is to explore treatment options for patients.

Some options being explored include artificial intelligence, virtual reality, a multi-sensory wellness chair, bright light therapy, and personalized music interventions.

Researchers Dr. Khalid Elgazzar (faculty of Engineering and Applied Science), Dr. Emma Bartfay, and Dr. Wally Bartfay (both with the faculty of Health Sciences) spoke with The Oshawa Express, and are very excited to be part of the program.

“We’ve been working on [the partnership] for about a year now,” explains Wally. “They have a geriatric dementia unit, and we wanted to establish something called the clinical dementia unit.”

The clinical dementia unit recently launched at Ontario Shores.

Wally explains patients are typically admitted from long-term care facilities, usually due to clinical challenges surrounding agitation, pacing, and other responsive behaviours.

“This unit really specializes in identifying them…,” says Wally. “What we try to do first is… put them on minimal amounts of medication, and try to use non-pharmacological interventions as much as possible.”

According to Elgazzar, the project goal is to detect aggression and agitated behaviour before it happens.

“[We’ll determine this] based on mission learning and artificial intelligence,” he explains. “After that we’ll use conversational robotics to interact with the patient so that we can relieve the symptoms, or we can implement some kind of intervention to reduce the harm of this agitation.”

Elgazzar says some interventions include musical therapy, a joke, a video, or simulating a memory from the past.

Emma emphasizes the effect this research will have on the patient’s quality of life.

“I’ve been doing dementia care work for over 10 years… I’m particularly interested in health services utilization, as well as the    quality of life research in persons with dementia and their caregivers,” she explains. “By  incorporating these interventions, particularly non-pharmacological interventions, it’s a great way of improving the quality of life not just for the person with dementia, but their caregivers.”

One aspect the three are excited about is Little Sophia, a robot which will be with people suffering from dementia 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“[She will be] talking with them, telling a joke, doing reminiscent therapy, showing them old images, and even alerting someone if they’re about to fall,” explains Wally. “Little Sophia is like a child who learns over time and sees which intervention is actually the best.”

Emma notes this is just the beginning of the collaboration between Ontario Tech and Ontario Shores.

“We have been working very hard to liaise with other community partners,” Emma explains. “A couple of long-term care facilities in the region, as well as the Alzheimer’s Society of Durham, and all of them are very interested in working with us to move forward with this project.”

She further explains it’s not just about patients who are admitted to a hospital.

“We are talking about all levels of care, whether it’s inpatient, outpatient, or long-term care facility residents,” she says. “I think the reach is to almost everybody that is affected by dementia in the community.”