People with dementia, memory problems, and other cognitive disorders often have difficulty with daily self-care tasks. Common acts such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed can become insurmountable challenges without assistance. In addition to the loss of independence on the part of the person with the disorder, the many steps and chores of helping another person prepare for and get by during the day can be exhausting for caregivers. The Family Caregiver Alliance outlines a plan for caregiver self-care as well as helping someone who can no longer function independently.

A team of researchers at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, Arizona State University, and MGH Institute of Health Profession developed a technology prototype called DRESS to help people with dementia get dressed by themselves. The group’s work is described in a study published in JMIR Medical Informatics. The DRESS is a chest of five drawers, each with a different item of clothing. Recorded audio clips in the caregiver’s voice provide guided assistance to direct the person to open drawers, which light up in the proper order. Sensors, image recognition, barcode tracking, and artificial intelligence software detect the subject’s progress in the complex act of getting dressed. When a person puts on an article of clothing correctly, an audio clip directs him or her to the next step. Detected mistakes and pauses prompt audio clips to correct the error or encourage the person. The subjects also wore skin conductance sensing bracelets to monitor stress levels during the process. In the study, 11 healthy people simulated correct and incorrect dressing events. Overall the researchers were satisfied with the ability of the DRESS prototype to correctly detect clothing orientation and position. Results varied depending on the size of the item, the size of the barcode markers, the distance from the sensor, and other factors. Shirts put on inside out were particularly difficult to detect, for example.

Further work is planned to address the difficulties identified in the initial tests. The researchers will continue to develop DRESS in order to give people with cognitive disorders the benefits of independence and privacy and to give caregivers a break.