A new pain recognition app that assesses pain levels in people with dementia is set to speed up the diagnosis and treatment of pain.

The new app, called PainChek has specific application for people with dementia who have challenges with verbal communication to improve their quality of lives.

PainChek is a secure, validated, TGA cleared application that uses artificial intelligence and smartphone technology to visually analyse facial expressions, assess pain levels in real time and update medical records in the cloud.

Australian developer, ePAT Technologies has announced a partnership with dementia specialist, Dementia Support Australia (DSA)*, which will see 150 expert consultants across Australia using the TGA-approved medical health technology with up to 5,000 people with dementia each year.

The agreement is a global first.

“This technology allows consultants, who have been called to assist someone with dementia, to understand the cause of a perceived severe behaviour, enabling them to quickly identify if that person is in pain,” said Associate Professor Colm Cunningham from Dementia Support Australia.

“An outcome of dementia can be a loss of ability to communicate and when that person is in pain it is sometimes displayed in frustration or behaviour that is out of character.”

“As a result, pain for people living with dementia may often go undetected or under-treated. DSA estimates that more than 70% of their clients are experiencing under-treated or undiagnosed pain which impacts their quality of life significantly,” said Professor Cunningham.

Sue Pieters-Hawke, who is a National Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia and co-chairs the Federal Dementia Forum, said that better assessment of pain could help improve support for people living with dementia and others whose pain may not be being recognised.

“We’ve long known that pain is a seriously under-recognised and under-treated issue for many people with dementia. This has caused so much unnecessary suffering, and continues to do so,” she said.

“I am hopeful this app can play a role in providing proper diagnosis and management of pain, and contribute to reducing the frequent misattribution of so called ‘behaviours’ to people suffering from our ignorance.”

ePAT CEO, Philip Daffas, said he was delighted to have the opportunity to work with the Dementia Support Australia team to improve the quality of life for people with dementia in Australia.

“We believe this is a unique combination of two Australian organisations working together to achieve a common goal in dementia,” he said.

A recent peer reviewed study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that PainChek is a valid and reliable pain assessment tool for people with moderate to severe dementia, who can no longer self-report their pain.

“We believe this study is the first time a pain assessment tool using automated facial recognition technology and a smart device to assess people with dementia has been clinically validated in the residential aged care setting, ” said Mustafa Atee, ePAT’s Scientific Officer.

“It gives us great confidence that that the arrangement with DSA will be a resounding success.”

Following the announcement today, it is expected that PainChek will be fully embedded across the DSA by early 2018.