Innovate for Good: Multidisciplinary Research Explores Wearable and Music Technologies to Support Cognitive Impairment

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Mason’s Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) aims to connect Mason’s world class research community with other communities to engage in cutting edge work to shape the future of our digital society, promoting equality, wellbeing, security and prosperity. 

Several Department of Social Work faculty were awarded 2021 IDIA seed grants, which are for projects that focus on what’s known as disruptive digital innovation, aimed at helping organizations reduce costs, improve services, or bring about a paradigm shift. 

The next part of our Innovate for Good series explores how College of Health and Human Services faculty are expanding research on dementia and palliative care. 

Improving Dementia Care with Wearable Technologies 

Emily Ihara
Emily S. Ihara, chair of the Department of Social Work

Building off a successful research project called the Music and Memory initiative, a multidisciplinary team of Mason faculty members is collecting physiological data points to determine what happens to the body when those with dementia hear certain types of music. 

Known as “Smart Music Intervention Program for Older Adults with Cognitive Impairment: A Protocol Development,” the project will develop a wearable technology device to measure things like heart rate and skin temperature in dementia patients. 

The team is comprised of Emily S. Ihara, chair of the Department of Social Work; Megumi Inoue, associate professor in the Department of Social Work; Cathy Tompkins, professor in the Department of Social Work; Y. Alicia Hong in the Department of Health Policy and Administration; plus Parth Pathak and Huzefa Rangwala in the Department of Computer Science. 

“The goal of this project is to develop an easily accessible, automatic, personalized digital music intervention program for older adults living with cognitive impairment,” said Ihara. “We already know that personalized music has been shown to decrease negative psychological and behavioral symptoms for individuals living with cognitive impairment.”  

“Nursing homes and long-term care organizations are implementing this nonpharmacological and affordable intervention both nationally and internationally,” said Ihara. But what’s next?  

Given the benefits of personalized music for individuals living with dementia, development of a wearable device will give researchers some hard data on how listening to music can physically impact a person’s body.  

“Our data thus far is observational,” said Ihara. “We see that patients are humming or smiling or rocking to the music. But we want to see what to see what’s going on inside—and we have the technology now to collect that information,” she said.  

Through the prototype development process, the research team will triangulate the physiological, observational, and self-reported effects of personalized music for individuals living with dementia. This will inform how to further digitize the intervention, allowing for scale-up in a large randomized clinical trial. 

Understanding and Combating Misconceptions about Palliative Care Using Artificial Intelligence 

Megumi Inoue
Megumi Inoue, associate professor in the Department of Social Work

On the surface, machine learning and big data may not seem to play an important role in palliative care. Megumi Inoue, associate professor in the Department of Social Work, is quick to correct misconceptions about palliative care, pointing out that the term “palliative care” does not necessarily mean end-of-life care. 

“Palliative care is about symptom management,” said Inoue. “One of the misconceptions about palliative care is that it’s the same as hospice care. But that’s not true—with palliative care, anyone can use it.” 

With such pervasive misinformation about palliative care, Inoue made it her mission to address these misconceptions. And what better way than to go the source of many of these misnomers—the internet. 

Inoue is working with an interdisciplinary team: Mahdi Hashemi from Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing, Naoru Koizumi and Rajendra Kulkarni from Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, Denise Mohess from Inova Fairfax Hospital, and Matthew Kestenbaum from Capital Caring Health.  

The team received a 2021 seed grant from Mason’s Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) for their project “Understanding the Impact of Misinformation on Palliative Care Demand Using Machine Learning and Qualitative Methods.” 

The project will apply a methodology used mainly in the field of computer science to see what type of misinformation exists about palliative care online. They will use artificial intelligence (AI) information mining to scour the internet, including Twitter and Google, to see what is being said about palliative care. 

“The impact of social media is huge,” she said “It’s a new data source for us and its reach is very important.” 

Once the team goes through the data, the next step will be to conduct interviews and focus groups to further understand how misinformation about palliative care is heard and spread. The team’s goal is to help healthcare organizations strategically communicate about the benefits of palliative care to work with patients and their families more effectively. 

“Palliative care is one of the fastest-growing medical specialties in health care,” said Inoue. “It saves money by reducing unnecessary treatment and it also provides comfort to patients.”  

“At the same time, palliative care faces various challenges including misconceptions among the general public, a lack of awareness of its benefits, and limited and sporadic access and coverage by insurance companies,” Inoue said. She hopes her research can change this for the better. 

Innovate for Good is an ongoing series that examines how Mason faculty in the College of Health and Human Services are harnessing technology to improve health outcomes. 

If you have stories to share as part of the Innovate for Good series, email Mary Cunningham at