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New App set to assist with pain monitoring for dementia patients

A point-of-care assessment app designed to help detect pain in people with dementia has gained approval for use as a medical device in Australia and Europe.

The Electronic Pain Assessment Tool (ePAT) is a mobile application tool, which has evolved from research undertaken by Curtin University over the past four years that aims to assess and monitor pain in people who cannot communicate verbally.

ePAT now has gained regulatory approval for its device and will roll out the app in Australia this year, in Europe next year and then aim to have US regulation by 2019.

The regulatory approval follows a peer-reviewed study confirming the validity and reliability of ePAT in people with moderate to severe dementia that was accepted for publication in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD) in July this year.

Curtin University’s Professor Jeff Hughes, the co-inventor of the app said: “Our vision to ensure no person who cannot speak will suffer in silence with pain is closer to being a reality.”

The ePAT app works by taking a 10-second video of the patient’s face and analysing it in real time for micro-expressions that indicate the presence of pain.

It combines this with information also captured through the app on non-facial pain cues, such as vocalisations, behaviours and movements, to calculate a pain severity score.

Both residents and care staff stand to benefit, Professor Hughes said.

“For people with dementia, it’s a more reliable way for their pain to be assessed and hence a reduced likelihood that it will go undetected or unmanaged.

“It offers residential aged care staff looking after people with dementia a simple reproducible means of assessing and monitoring pain.

“This should result in better pain management and a reduction in pain related behavioural problems, in turn decreasing the need for psychotropic medications,” Professor Hughes said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows 342,800 Australians were estimated to have dementia in 2015. Based on projections of population ageing and growth, the number of people with dementia will reach almost 400,000 by 2020, and around 900,000 by 2050.