Facial-recognition technology may help detect pain in patients with severe dementia
2019-06-17 from theglobeandmail.com
Pain is often poorly treated among individuals with severe dementia who have trouble communicating their discomfort. A Canadian research team is aiming to tackle this problem with the use of facial-recognition technology.
The team, co-led by Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos at the University of Regina, has developed an image processing system to monitor and analyze the facial expressions of long-term-care residents. The computerized system then alerts nurses whenever it detects wincing, frowning and other expressions that suggest a resident is in pain.
Less than a decade ago, the idea of using an automated system to recognize pain in those with severe Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias “seemed like science fiction,” says Dr. Hadjistavropoulos, a professor of psychology and research chair in aging and health.
But now, he says, “I have come to firmly believe that the greatest solutions … in improving the quality of lives of these patients within our lifetime are far more likely to come from engineering than they are to come from the medical sciences.”
With no cure and only limited treatments available for those with Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Hadjistavropoulos and his team are betting their work can, at least, help alleviate suffering. They plan to begin testing their system, supported by the federally-funded AGE-WELL network, at two long-term-care facilities in Regina later this year.
Depending on the study, the prevalence of pain among long-term-care residents is estimated to be as high as 80 per cent, Dr. Hadjistavropoulos says. Yet, this population often does not get adequate pain treatment, in large part, because those with advanced dementia may not effectively express their needs, and long-term-care facilities often lack the staffing resources to adequately detect their pain, he explains.
As a result, residents can become agitated and aggressive, leading staff to mistakenly attribute their behaviour to psychiatric disturbances. Residents are thus commonly treated with psychotropic medications, rather than the analgesic medications they need, Dr. Hadjistavropoulos says.
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