AI, which stands for Artificial Intelligence, refers to the ability of a computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks normally done by humans. Some AI utilises voice recognition to work, meaning it responds to speech. It can help people with disabilities in a number of ways by recognising people in photos, understanding speech, remembering passwords, reminding you to take medication, and searching for information online.
Here we look at how AI is helping people deal with symptoms of a variety of conditions and some of the broader applications it could have.
In early 2019, researchers in London trained AI to track responses to the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) to improve care for people with the condition. Academics at University College London and King’s College London conducted a study using computer algorithms to track changes in hundreds of MRI brain scans belonging to patients prescribed Natalizumab, a treatment for highly-active relapsing MS. After absorbing this data, the computer was able to unearth new patterns in patients’ brains.
Rather than simply mirroring what radiologists do, AI does what no human can do—it draws intelligence from very rich data to enable individually-tailored care. This can be used to anticipate symptoms before the patient is even aware of them.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks joints. The University of Bath is developing an app to monitor patients’ symptoms between medical appointments and predict flare-ups. Called the Flare Profiler, the app will test a unique range of patient data using video and thermal imaging technology.
The project will then analyse patient data using AI to group patient disease activity patterns and identify the most effective treatment. It could cut down drastically on hospital visits for patients and so save them time, inconvenience, lost working hours, and cost.
Osteoarthritis is a very common condition causing joints to become painful and stiff, usually as we get older. It can be mild to very severe, making movement and mobility difficult and painful. AI is being used to help people manage and alleviate symptoms. The charity Versus Arthritis has developed a virtual assistant powered by AI. It learns over time and improves as more people use it, so just by accessing the virtual assistant, you are assisting research of AI for people with osteoarthritis.
Smart speakers can also make life easier if mobility is impaired. They can turn lights on or off, control heating, turn on the TV and search for channels or programmes, set alarms, alert you to who’s at the front door, and even read you a book!
The Motability Scheme helps you to get mobile by exchanging your mobility allowance to lease a new car, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, scooter or powered wheelchair, all of which come with our fully inclusive lease package. To find out more about joining the Scheme, you can order a free information pack and check your eligibility.
In 2016 a team of scientists at Microsoft developed a pen to help graphic designer Emma Lawton, who is living with Parkinson’s, steady her hand so she could write again. Emma now works as project lead for apps at Parkinson’s UK. She says in an interview with The Evening Standard:
“There are over 40 symptoms of Parkinson’s so there is no one size fits all treatment or individual. The apps we develop help people to create their own toolkit, whether they need help sleeping, swallowing or rejigging their memory.
AI is the future of healthcare. It allows us to be superhuman, to hover above ourselves and see things from afar to help make intelligent decisions. In the future I hope everything will feed together. So your smart fridge will connect to your wearable tech and warn you what you ate last night may cause some cramping and if you aren’t able to walk, you should avoid travelling. It allows us to master our condition.”Emma Lawton, The Evening Standard
Recovery from strokes
Though the brain can be retrained following a stroke, it can take hundreds of hours. Voice recognition is being developed by the Medical Graphics team at The University of Chester, with the help of the stroke department at the Countess of Chester Hospital, to make this easier.
Using virtual reality headsets, the aim is to make intensive rehabilitation more accessible and immediate. This could reduce the duration of long-term care and make rehabilitation programmes more adaptable. The devices can be operated with minimal supervision. By doing the exercises “virtually” this means patients aren’t wearing themselves out as they’re using their heads, not their arms and legs which can be exhausting for patients recovering from a stroke.
US-based Motus Nova has developed a device that can be used at home and is as fun as playing video games. The Hand Mentor and Foot Mentor can be used independently and without supervision. The user operates the device using sensors to monitor and determine what is most effective. It’s hoped this product will soon be available in the UK.
Get involved in researching AI
There are a number of charities for people with disabilities taking an active interest in AI, so it’s well worth having a search online and checking out their websites for updates on latest developments. There may also be a chance to take part in research so you can play your part in developing AI. The national charity Scope actively encourages the inclusion of disabled people in user research. They themselves have a research panel where disabled people and carers use their experiences to help create and improve products and services.