The Milbotix smart socks – which do not require charging – can monitor the wearer’s heart rates and anxiety levels, alerting caregivers before their distress worsens.
A young inventor quit his job and studied at the University of Bristol’s robotics lab, so he could help people with dementia. He has created a unique wearable technology aimed at people with dementia: socks.
Why did Zeke Steer leave his job?
The reason was personal: Dr. Zick Steer’s great-grandmother was diagnosed with dementia and became restless and aggressive. Her gentle nature gave way to sharp outbursts, and she even went so far as to say Steyer’s grandmother (her daughter) was stealing from her.
Steer, a British national, quit his job as a software engineer in the defense industry and decided to investigate how wearable technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) could help alleviate his grandmother’s dementia symptoms.
What did Steer do?
Steer remembers his great-grandmother, Cath, as a “nice and sociable” woman who enjoyed jazz — but that dementia largely took her mental abilities: “Several years after being diagnosed with dementia, she became prone to bouts of aggression that put a tremendous strain on my family.” .
That’s why he decided to look at how wearable technologies and artificial intelligence could help treat his grandmother’s symptoms.
While in graduate school, Steer volunteered at a dementia care home operated by the St Monica Trust, Garden House in Cote Lane. He learned that his grandmother’s behavior was not unique to her.
While volunteering there, Steyer came up with the idea for Milbotix—a wearable company he launched in February 2020. “I came to see that my grandmother wasn’t an isolated episode, and stressful behaviors are all too common,” he explained.
What are smart socks?
Smart socks look like regular socks; It is machine washable and does not require charging – yet it is able to track heart rate, sweat levels and movement providing feedback on how a person is feeling. A person’s anxiety level can be monitored by caregivers who look at an app that generates data from socks.
Currently, there are other options for monitoring stress levels by measuring heart rate and perspiration, but these wearables are wrist straps that can stigmatize patients or increase stress on the wearer.
Steer said: “The feet are actually a great place to collect data on stress, and socks are a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day.
“Our research shows that socks can accurately recognize signs of stress – which can really help not only those with dementia and autism, but their caregivers as well.”
What do people think of Steer’s work?
“Zeke’s passion was clear from his first day with us and he has worked closely with staff, relatives and residents to better understand the effects and treatment of dementia.
“We were really impressed with the capabilities of his assistive technology to predict impending disruption and help alert staff to intervene before it escalates into distressing behaviors,” said Fran Ashby, Director of Home Care at Garden House Care.
“Using examples of modern assistive technology such as smart socks can help enable people with dementia to maintain their dignity and obtain better quality outcomes in their daily lives.”
Professor Judith Squires, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “It is wonderful to see Zeke use the skills he has learned with us to improve the well-being of some of those who need it most.
“Zeke’s innovative research has the potential to help millions live better lives. We hope to see Milbotix thrive.”
How about some facts and figures?
According to the Alzheimer’s charity, there will be 1.6 million people with dementia in the UK alone. The charity also says every three minutes, one person will develop dementia. Dementia is believed to cost the country $42.79 billion each year.
On the other hand, autism affects 1 per cent of the UK population, roughly 700,000 people and, according to the UK government, 15 to 30 per cent of them have difficulty expressing their feelings verbally.
“In 2022, it will cost Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia [United States] $321 billion, including $206 billion in combined Medicare and Medicaid payments,” notes the Alzheimer’s Association. The nonprofit also says that more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that by 2050, that number is expected to rise to nearly 13 million.
What are Milbotix’s plans for the future?
Steer is now expanding his business. He’s testing socks with people with middle to late-stage dementia, and is developing the technology before the socks hits commerce next year. Milbotix is expected to begin a funding round later in 2022.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s Accelerator Program will support Milbotix by helping to fund the development of wearable technology, providing innovation support and assistance with testing socks.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies