Semiconductor giant Intel Corp. and the Alzheimer's Assn. joined forces last week to develop technology aimed at helping patients, caregivers and families.
The focus won't be on finding cures but on using new technology to improve care for patients by compensating for impairments and simplifying the tasks of caregivers.
Such tools could help delay or even prevent the need to move the patient to a residential care facility.
"It is our hope that through this effort we will improve the quality of life for millions of people with Alzheimer's disease, their families, friends and professional health care providers," said William Thies, a vice president of the Everyday Technologies for Alzheimer Care, which plans to fund $1 million of the research.
Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel has been researching proactive health care technology since April 2002.
Other projects include deploying wireless sensor networks to monitor patients' eating and drinking habits as well as to ensure that medication is taken on time.
Caregivers, who are often afraid of letting patients out of their sight for even a few minutes, would be among the beneficiaries of the technology.
In one example, pressure-sensitive sensors could be placed in a chair and would trigger an alarm if a patient attempted to stand.
Other wireless sensors might be used to help a computer determine whether a patient had fallen on the floor, Intel researcher Eric Dishman said.
Sensors and computers also could be used to remind people who may have trouble remembering their parts of their daily routines, such as making a cup of tea, Dishman said.
"That may seem trivial to you or me, but if you're a caregiver, this is a really empowering technology," he said.
About 4 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease. That number is expected to grow as 76 million baby boomers begin to turn 65 in 2011.
The consortium plans to build an alliance of experts from fields as diverse as software engineering, business and medicine to harness technologies such as sensor networks and make life easier for patients and their families.