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Dementia Technology and its Usefulness

By: Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC

Every day we see new technology geared towards improving our daily health. However, what technology is valuable for someone living with dementia? The brain’s natural slowing benefits from most of the latest home and personal technology, but when the brain change is accelerated, what technology proves useful?

Brain games are a popular computer feed for anyone searching for memory information. However, research is mixed on its value. Neurologists are suggesting brain games for those who are experiencing mild cognitive impairment. These individuals may or may not benefit from the program but the risk of harm is negligible.

Individuals living in the more advanced stages of dementia may find some internet games troubling, in particular, games including Virtual Reality cues. A study looking at gaming cues and the brains of younger people found exposure to either internet games or TV dramas elevates the reactivity to visual cues associated with the exposure.1 Dementia care experts and astute families have seen the detriment of uncensored television watching on their care partners. Watching a drama with a cheating husband can lead to an afternoon of paranoia and agitation. The same is true of internet games which would have once been brain-enhancing but are detrimental due to brain changes in information processing. The change in processing results in the inability to realize what is real and what is not. Equally negative is a brain game that is more challenging than the individual can process. 

As the stages of dementia advance, wayfinding technology becomes a much-sought technology. Pages of GPS-enabled technology appear when you search for GPS and dementia. With 60-70% of individuals with dementia wandering2, this is technology which should be considered sooner than later. Anecdotal evidence suggests the technology which best represents a familiar past experience is most successful. For example, a cell phone is one of the first technologies to become confusing which translates into being left behind, so not useful for GPS. Even wristwatches are unfamiliar in the loved one’s early life, so most likely to be forgotten or taken off and left behind.

Smart speakers in the home may be useful in early stages with medication and appointment reminders but could become part of a delusion later in dementia stages. Most of us have little experience or memory of disembodied voices speaking to us.

But what about the technology so many memory care communities tout as dementia-friendly? How useful are they?

Again, this goes to stage. If your loved one is moving into a community in the early stages of dementia, it is possible he or she will be able to process the family photos on video feed at their door. In moderate dementia, the speed of the feed as well as the location of the screen would make this technology useful solely to family and staff.

Similarly, a computer system which has the person’s preferences and biography requires a staff member or family member to access the appropriate file. Eyesight changes will also affect the usefulness of this technology.

Room technologies that tell when a person uses the restroom or has a blood pressure change are good, but you might ask how this technology affects staffing ratios.  Technology cannot replace a well-trained professional caregiver.

Whether you are looking for technology to assist dementia care in your home or in a community, always consider the brain changes being experienced by your loved one. There are excellent technologies but are they useful and enriching the life of your loved one in their current state of processing, eyesight, stage of brain change?

 

By-line:  Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s.  Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.  Cate is now personally caring for her spouse who has a diagnosis of dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.

 

Footnotes

1Ahn, H.M., Chung, H.J., & Kim, S.H. (2015).  Altered brain reactivity to game cues after gaming experience, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Network, 18(8): 474-479.

2https://www.alzinfo.org

3Hartin, P.J., Nugent, C.D., McClean, S.I., Cleland, I., et al. (2014), A smartphone application to evaluate technology adoption and usage in persons with dementia, Conference Proceedings of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Sociology, 2014: 5389-5392.

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