Australian Health Startup Builds App That Helps People With Dementia

PainChek, an Australian-based health startup, has built an app to help people with dementia assess and score their pain levels. People with dementia have communication difficulties. While it's easy for regular people to tell someone about their pain, it's never easy for those who can't report their sufferings. 

As noted from CNN, the company believes that their AI program has a staggering 90% accuracy in detecting pain. Before rolling out the app, PainChek has done over 180,000 pain assessments on over 66,000 people worldwide.

The project started way back in 2012 when a team of scientists from Curtin University in Western Australia dreamed of a better alternative to subjective paper-based evaluations.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that over 50 million people have dementia with over 10 million new cases every year. A study from 2012 also echoed the statement, revealing that over 80% of dementia patients who live in nursing homes regularly experience pain. 

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Assessment Features

PainChek is mostly used in care homes or in households with the elderly suffering from such dementia. It's a safe and handy smartphone-based medical device that can be brought everywhere. 

Instead of manual assessment, PainChek uses facial analysis to detect the pain. To accurately assess the pain, a caregiver can simply use a smartphone camera to record a short video of the person's face and then analyze the moving images using the app. The AI would then observes their facial expressions, muscle movements, and behaviors to translate them into the Abbey Pain standardized scale. 

"The tool applies artificial intelligence and algorithms to decode the face based on decades of research," says Peter Shergill, PainChek's business development director, as noted from CNN

In June 2017, both versions of the app for Android and iOS users were completed, and the company received the regulatory clearance a month later. Now, the patents have been granted all around the world, from the US, Japan, China, until Europe. 

Worldwide Use

In its home country of Australia, the government rolled out $3,8 million for care homes to adopt the technology for two years since 2019. 

Years after its launch, over 772 care homes globally are using PainChek now. When the company released the tech in the United Kingdom, 1,000 patients have signed up for the AI so far. 

Although the AI product is primarily used among care homes, the company is eyeing to develop its product for much larger groups of age. So far, a Melbourne-based pediatric hospital helped identify pain in children under three-years-old, who, of course, aren't able to communicate properly yet. 

"We have one lady who is very advanced in her dementia and was manifesting signs that would be interpreted by most people as physical pain," one user from the UK, Paul Rowley, interprets how important PainChek has been. Rowley has a 24-bed residential home, and 20 of them suffer from dementia. In this case, the lady was not manifesting any form of physical pain, but rather frustration and anxiety problems. 

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