Cognitive Computing

Outthinking Dementia

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I first realized it the day my father asked me which number came between 3 and 5.

He had been living alone for a while in another state and I only saw him a few times a year, but while speaking to him on the phone it became more evident after he would repeatedly ask how to write a check and no longer knew where the grocery store was located. Months past and it was clear that he was not safe living alone. He was not able to manage daily situations, such as an ATM, finding milk in a store, or remembering where he was.

He was quickly losing his dignity, his everyday joy and daily life was very disorienting.  I moved him close by and began a journey as his caregiver. Although Dementia did teach me patience and humor in many situations, it was maddening to think of what was happening to my Dad and frustrating to think of the increasing number of those affected by this disease and their caregivers.

Every 67 seconds, one new person in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, it will be one every 33 seconds. There are 47 million worldwide with 10 million new cases each year.Picture of two hands each holding a stopwatch. The year 2014 appears above the hand on the left with the number 67 on the stopwatch. The year 2050 appears above the hand on the right with the number 33 on the stopwatch.


With no known cures, we must change the course of how it develops from the onset and how we care for those living with the disease and their families.

I often ask myself:

  • What if we could better understand an individual’s propensity for the predictors of dementia early on in life and treat the disease before it starts? We can learn from an example where the City of Bolzano, Italy partnered with IBM. This project used sensors in the home for remote support and security of the elderly, empowering their aging in place and improved their quality of life. Projects likes this can be extended to those early on in life and measure their levels of socialization which can contribute to Dementia.
  • What if we could enable people in the early stages of dementia to live at home independently for longer? IBM Research is working on a joint initiative to aid in the diagnosis of dementia, treatment and monitoring over time at home. Scientists at IBM Research are contributing by exploring how voice analysis can help diagnose and monitor people with dementia.
  • What if we could get assistance from cognitive advisors that provide friendly reminders to those with Dementia when they forget what they are doing or saying? Through the use of cognitive technologies we could provide memory assistance to people after noticing difficulty in completing a task or remembering certain information.

Dementia continues to be a battle for so many, but through research and advances in technology comes innovations that have the power to change outcomes. We continue to learn more about this disease and create a better life for people so we can all age with dignity and grace.

It has been a year since my father passed and not a day goes by when I reflect how we can change this paradigm and outthink Dementia.

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