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The technology behind self-driving cars, smart houses and futuristic supermarkets has become familiar to most. We’ve become accustomed to reading about applications of AI, but the 50 million sufferers of dementia have been left behind by this technological revolution. A contributing factor is the marked lack of technological affinity in the medical profession, where the first impulse is to prescribe medication. One man is determined to change that: Hans Arnold, with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Network or JAIN.

Hans was working in law enforcement in the field of peace, justice and security in the field of AI. A few years ago, he received a phone call: a close friend had been suddenly stricken with complete amnesia and brought to the hospital. Hans immediately went there to help. He was shocked by the state of his friend and especially by the question his friend asked him: “Who are you and where do I know you from?”

Hans Arnold
Hans Arnold, founder of JAIN

That experience inspired Hans to begin a journey leading him to launch a worldwide initiative. The goal: to unite government policies, research institutes, hospitals, enterprises and Alzheimer-related entities behind a worldwide effort to develop AI solutions to improve the quality of life and self-reliance of people with amnesia and dementia. IO talked to him to find out more.

Alzheimer patients struggle with managing simple, routine household tasks. Would AI solutions be like a kind of indoor GPS?

Not just indoor – it would also serve as an outdoor GPS. Imagine a person with Alzheimer’s moving towards the front door, a sign that they want to leave. A system could warn them that they need to wear a raincoat or take an umbrella, if rain is expected, for instance.

It could then guide them to their destination, say, a supermarket, assist with purchases and finally help them find their way back home.

What other solutions can you envision?

People with dementia have issues with incontinence. In the Netherlands, Alzheimer Nederland conducted a study revealing that patients typically wet the bed at 4:00 am every night. Sensors could wake them up in time. The calculated cost of these bed-wetting incidents is €36 million. And this cost comes on top of the discomfort of the person affected, of course.

Isn’t there an institution already looking at AI initiatives for Alzheimer’s?

Yes, but they are all small, scattered local initiatives. And that’s part of the problem. Here in the Netherlands, for example, they developed an AI device far beyond the price range of most people who would need it. But if numerous institutions worldwide share research and results, it can be scaled up – bringing down the price.

This is also a ticking time bomb. In the West, the population is aging fast, but there is a shortage of medical personnel. This gap will continue to widen. This is another good reason to enable people with dementia to live as independently as possible.

How many entities are involved in this initiative so far?

A large chunk of the financing was provided by me personally, but I also receive financial support from Alzheimer Nederland. We are supported in our efforts to expand JAIN internationally by a team of attachés of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Dutch Ministry of Health.

How big is your team?

We are supported by the JAIN coalition of professors AI and neuropsychology and care specialists. My wife comes from the care profession and my son Thomas studied psychology; both are also involved. Marco Blom, scientific director of Alzheimer Nederland, is the scientific conscience of JAIN; Vilans and the Expertise Center Dementia & Technology at the Eindhoven University of Technology are also chief contributors. We all work full time to grow our network, but at some point, we will have to expand.

It is very rewarding! It is gratifying to know that we are working to put this technology to good use by improving the quality of life of millions of people across the world.

It seems like a huge task to expand worldwide. How do you plan to accomplish that?

In close collaboration with INTERDEM, Alzheimer Nederland and Alzheimer Europe, JAIN will organize the World JAIN Challenge on March 23 and 24 this year to further expand a worldwide network of research and development in this field.

We have already held several international symposiums with Singapore, India and Israel with attendees from various medical institutions. We want as many people as possible to get involved and participate in the research and development of different AI solutions and share their findings. The Dutch embassies in the respective countries help us connect with the appropriate entity.

Our next symposium will be in Germany on January 19th. I hope you will join!

How do you test AI solutions once you have a prototype?

There is a cooperative agreement with eight JAIN Field labs here in the Netherlands. They are all associated with Alzheimer hospitals and other institutions.  

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