The kitchen that keeps an eye on Alzheimer’s patients by using digital technology

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 12:37 AM on 29th April 2009

It looks like the sort of kitchen found in any fashionable home.

But inside its wooden cabinets and laminated worktops, it is anything but ordinary.

Devised by British scientists, the kitchen is packed with an array of hidden sensors, projectors and electronics that can help Alzheimer’s patients live independently.

Enlarge Make a Cup Of Tea

Kitchen of the future: A prototype of the ‘ambient kitchen’ is being developed at Newcastle University in a £36million project

The sensors – hidden away in every cupboard door, appliance and utensil – tell a central computer exactly what task a dementia patient is doing at any time.

If the kitchen thinks the individual has become confused, it projects written reminders of what to do next on to the closest wall.

A prototype of the ‘ambient kitchen’ is being developed at Newcastle University in a £36million project to find new uses for digital technology.

Researchers believe it could be in homes within five years.

Professor Paul Watson, who developed the room, said it would offer a lifeline to sufferers of dementia.

‘This is for people starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease who may get half way through cooking a meal or making a cup of tea but who then get stuck,’ he said.

‘There are sensors in the utensils and floor so it knows when people are cutting vegetables or using the kettle.

‘It is designed to learn people’s behaviour and spot when something unusual has happened – then prompt them.

‘The idea is to put it into your own home. The cost will be hundreds of pounds – and it will save on the costs of sheltered accommodation.’

Every appliance and utensil in the kitchen comes with a sensor – similar to the motion detecting devices in the handsets of the Wii computer game.

The sensors hide inside plastic handles that can be fitted to knives, chopping boards, whisks, kettles, fridge doors and food containers.

Pressure pads under the floor reveal where the owner is standing and which way they are facing.

Information from the sensors is sent wirelessly to a computer hidden away in one of the cupboards.

‘We have also fitted radio frequency identification tags to a cookery book so that the kitchen knows what recipe someone is looking at and can give assistance,’ added Professor Watson.

The kitchen can be programmed to alert neighbours or family members if the householder doesn’t use their kitchen. It will also learn the typical behaviour of its owner – and spot inconsistencies that could be cause for alarm.

The ambient kitchen is just one project being carried out at three research ‘hubs’ launched to find new ways of using digital technology-to help the elderly, disabled and poor.

The centres – at Newcastle, Aberdeen and Nottingham universities – are being funded by Research Councils UK.

One is developing a health kit that monitors a patient’s heartbeat, temperature and breathing rates and sends the information wirelessly to a doctor.

The idea is aimed at rural dwellers with chronic illness or recovering from operations

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