Eindhoven University of Technology: Innovation award for dementia researcher TU/e

Researcher Rens Brankaert has been awarded the Young Outstanding Researcher Award 2021. According to Alzheimer Nederland, which presents the award, Brankaert and a second prize winner are going to “make a difference in innovative dementia research”. The award, which was determined by an audience vote, carries a cash prize of 100,000 euros.

Brankaert designs “warm technology” for elderly people with dementia. “Warm technology is user-friendly, not stigmatizing and takes into account both the user and his environment,” says the young researcher. In the coming years, Brankaert wants to further develop and promote this concept, in order to increase its impact.

According to Alzheimer Nederland, a Dutch organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers, young researchers are important for innovation within dementia research. “This year, the innovative power of this group is especially evident. The two winners have the potential to be decisive for dementia research in the coming decades.”

Brankaert, associate professor at Industrial Design, and also affiliated with Center for Humans and Technology and Fontys Hogescholen, is very happy with the award. “This is a great honor and a token of appreciation for my work and that of my colleagues.”

The combination of technology and dementia has been Brankaert’s field even since he graduated. In 2015 he gained his doctorate at Industrial Design for work that involved designing the Welthuis Compass, a simple navigation system for people with dementia.

Another good example of ‘warm technology’ is Living Moments, a device for converting almost automatically digital messages into a printed card, sound and images.

“Living Moments has a printer that produces a paper postcard carrying a message and photo. The user can then insert this into the system in order to hear and see extra information. The person with dementia then has the option of giving a response very simply, in the form of a smiley or a spoken message.”

Living moments, which Brankaert designed together with doctoral student Myrte Thoolen will be entered in the TU/e Contest.

Alzheimer Nederland started out as an organization that sought to tackle the disease. Today, increasingly, it also recognizes the necessity of using technology to support the growing group of people with dementia. The orientation of fundamental research for the long term has therefore been broadened to include applied research, such as the development of technologies that can be deployed quickly.

Brankaert has plenty of plans for the 100,000 euros he won. “I want to develop a prototype series of the Welthuis Compass, so that it can become the subject of further research. What’s more, I hope this will enable us to increase the target group’s involvement with the new expertise center. We already have our eye on a community center in the Oud-Strijp neighborhood in Eindhoven. Working with the senior’s association KBO Brabant, we hope to build community involvement.” .

The Eindhoven researcher received the award in the category ‘research for the benefit of the current generation’. A second award went to Rik Ossenkoppele, researcher at the Amsterdam UMC, in the category ‘research for future generations’. He conducts research into PET brain scans to diagnose dementia earlier and more accurately. He too will receive 100,000 euros.

A total of four researchers were nominated for Young Outstanding Researcher Award, which is being presented for the third time this year.

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