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05/24/2019

Japan as a major player in health

Amid aging society, latest technology utilized for dementia care

Left: ExaWizards President and CEO Ko Ishiyama is striving to resolve social issues through utilizing artificial intelligence. Right: NeU CEO Kiyoshi Hasegawa has long focused his attention on industrial applications of brain science.
Left: ExaWizards President and CEO Ko Ishiyama is striving to resolve social issues through utilizing artificial intelligence. Right: NeU CEO Kiyoshi Hasegawa has long focused his attention on industrial applications of brain science.

As people age, anybody could be diagnosed with having dementia.

The number of dementia patients in Japan was 4.62 million in 2012, with one out of seven people 65 years and older suffering from the disease. However, the figure is expected to rise to about 7 million in 2025, meaning that one out of five people in that age group could be diagnosed with the disease. The pace of this increase is estimated to surpass that of the overall number of the elderly.

How can Japanese society address this issue, which burdens not only patients, but also their family members, in addition to huge social expenditures? New efforts are already underway to tackle the issue in both the public and private sectors.

AI in nursing care

Some companies have strived to fundamentally improve the social environment surrounding nursing care by storing scientific data and empirical values, which are difficult to visualize, in artificial intelligence.

ExaWizards Inc., a startup founded in 2016, has been working on reforming nursing care sites, including those with patients suffering from dementia.

ExaWizards President and CEO Ko Ishiyama served as the first head of the Recruit Institute of Technology and later joined a university-originated venture company in 2017, founded by Yoichi Takebayashi, a specially appointed professor at Shizuoka University, and others. Takebayashi is a leading expert in data analysis for dementia. The venture firm merged with AI venture ExaIntelligence, originating from Kyoto University, leading to the launch of ExaWizards.

One of many projects that ExaWizards has concurrently promoted is the effort to disseminate a caregiving method known as Humanitude, which was developed in France more than 40 years ago. The company has also been working to analyze the effects of this method and spread the proper way of its caregiving.

One example from this project is to help nurture personnel in the nursing care field by utilizing the company’s original video coaching app and AI.

“For example, in order to communicate with people suffering from dementia, you need to talk to them from a distance of about 20 centimeters while sustaining eye contact,” Ishiyama said. “If you talk to them from their side or touch their body without proper knowledge of how to contact them, they might be surprised and it could prompt an adverse reaction.”

ExaWizards is now developing a service that enables caregivers to send a video capturing their actual caregiving approach; then the company’s AI would measure the distance of their contact with a patient. The video would be sent back to the caregivers, featuring written advice in red pen and comments from caregiving experts. An example of such a comment could be, “It’s better for you to have your face in front of the patient so that you can easily maintain eye contact.”

If this service becomes widely used, it would surely provide an opportunity for caregivers to reflect on their approach. Additionally, it could contribute to the improvement of the quality of overall care provided by a facility.

“Acquiring proper caregiving methods could reduce the chances of adverse reactions from patients, which would eventually alleviate the burden on caregivers themselves,” Ishiyama noted.

From March, ExaWizards also began providing a service to analyze nursing care data possessed by municipal governments. Assessing intervention effects in dementia care has been difficult because symptoms advance as time goes by. But if the introduction of AI were to help predict transitions of nursing care levels, it could visualize intervention effects. It could enable municipalities to have clearer prospects for their future fiscal conditions and properly implement projects for prevention.

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