A St Monica Trust volunteer’s invention could benefit millions of people who are living with dementia.
Dr Zeke Steer was volunteering at the St Monica Trust’s Garden House care home when he had the idea for developing smart socks that monitor the stress levels of people who are living with dementia.
When he contacted the Trust, Dr Steer was taking a PhD at Bristol Robotics Laboratory. He wanted to find a technological solution to help people like his great grandmother, who became anxious and distressed because of her dementia.
Dr Steer said: “During the two years I was volunteering with the Trust, the relationships I forged with residents and relatives were really important for the research and development of the smart socks.
“I also got to understand the challenges faced by staff who are caring for those living with dementia and found a high level of interest in a technical solution for improving residents’ well-being.”
Dr Steer’s smart socks track heart rate, sweat levels and motion to give insights on how anxious the person living with dementia is feeling.
They look and feel like normal socks, do not need charging, are machine washable and provide a steady stream of data to carers, who can easily see the person’s metrics on an app.
“The foot is actually a great place to collect data about stress, and socks are a familiar piece of clothing that people wear every day.
“Our research shows they can accurately recognise signs of stress, and if we can provide an early warning to alert carers of the need to intervene, they can give treatment that reduces the individual’s distress before it escalates.”
Garden House Care Home Manager, Fran Ashby said: “Zeke’s passion was clear from his first day at the Sundials and he worked closely with staff, relatives and residents to better understand the effects and treatment of dementia.
“We were really impressed at the potential of his assisted technology to predict impending agitation and help alert staff to intervene before it can escalate into distressed behaviours.
“Using modern assistive technology examples like smart socks can help enable people living with dementia to retain their dignity and have better quality outcomes for their day-to-day life.”
Having had his plans to trial the socks at Garden House interrupted by the pandemic, Dr Zeke has setup a company, Milbotix Ltd and is now back with the Sundials team to further develop his technology and bring the product to market next year.
Dr Zeke said: “My experiences of volunteering in a dementia care home have really stuck with me and I fully emphasise with the challenges faced by the Sundials staff who deliver such a high standard of care, day in and day out.
“It can be extremely challenging for all those affected by dementia, and if this technology can help in any way to reduce levels of distress through early intervention, then that is beneficial for everyone.”
Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the huge contribution millions of people make in communities across the UK through volunteering.
The St Monica Trust has its own dedicated team of volunteers who, like Zeke, bring a wide range of skills that enrich the life of the Trust’s residents.
Head of Well-being and Resident Engagement, Wendy Hodsdon said: “Each year, during National Volunteers’ Week, we celebrate the achievements of our wonderful volunteers, and this year Zeke has reminded us all of the amazing contribution all our volunteers make to the Trust.
“His journey from a volunteer who wanted to make a difference, to an inventor of smart technology solution, is both impressive and inspirational. Thank you Zeke.”
If you are interested in volunteering at the St Monica Trust, please call the trust's Volunteering Team on 07817 633 011 or email email@example.com.