How Tech is Revolutionizing Care for People With Dementia

By John Ramsay for ItProPortal

Innovations in technology are helping support workforces across the globe to become more efficient and alleviate the stress felt by workers. A prime example of this is the introduction of augmented reality to the property industry, as it allows individuals to view their furniture in a properly without physically moving it.

One sector that is under increasing pressure, due to factors such as budget cuts and high staff turnover, is the care sector. However, as technology evolves to become more intelligent, new developments are both reducing the stress of caregivers and giving the people who need care a better quality of life.

In the home

There is huge demand for smart home technology, from Amazon’s Alexa telling you what the weather will be like tomorrow, to your heating system being controlled from your smart phone. However, smart home technology can also help people who are early on in their dementia journey remain independent.

Assistive technology is designed to help people remain independent but also give relatives the reassurance that they will be alerted if their loved ones are in any sort of harm. This came to prominence following a major NHS trial called Technology Integrated Health Management which tested how the Internet of Things (IoT) could help individuals with dementia remain independent.

Devices are connected via the IoT and allow clinicians to monitor a person’s environment, health and well-being in real time. These devices can alert care givers and the emergency services if they detect any potential problems, such as a fall. Designed to work alongside existing care services, it illustrates how technology and care can work harmoniously to provide a higher quality of care and give people with dementia more control over their wellbeing.

Gamification

The role of cognitive stimulation in the battle to slow down the advancement of dementia has been an interesting area of scientific study in recent years. Dutch entrepreneur, Hester Le Riche, published a PhD into how to help people on their dementia journey using interactive light projections. Le Riche’s research spanned over six years and focused on how playing games with particular design characteristics, helped increase engagement for people with dementia and ultimately, helped slow down cognitive decline.

In particular, she found that creating games for people with dementia must be inclusive to ensure that all players have the opportunity to join in. Her research identified big differences between those living with early and mid-to-late onset dementia and the requirements of games to elicit engagement differed accordingly. What worked for those with early onset dementia, wasn’t effective at engaging those further into their journey with dementia, and vice versa.

From this research, Hester designed and created the Tovertafel, a series of interactive light games that are projected onto any table. The games use reminiscence techniques to encourage engagement from its players and provides an activity that people living with dementia, care givers and their families can enjoy. It helps break down the barriers that friends and family can experience when unsure of how to interact with loved ones on their dementia journey.

As well as directly engaging and helping the gamers (people with dementia), technology is also helping the game creators understand dementia. Dementia research is years behind other life changing diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s and scientists are becoming increasingly innovative when it comes to new methods of research.

Loss of navigational skills is one of the first symptoms of dementia, yet doctors are still struggling to directly pinpoint when this is a result of natural aging, or a sign of early onset dementia. Sea Hero Quest, created by Glitchers and supported by scientists at The University of London, University of East Anglia and Deutsche Telekom, is using gamification to create the world’s largest crowdsourced data set. By collecting data from a game that can be played on your phone or through a VR headset, scientists can see how the brain deteriorates taking into account a variety of different factors.

Understanding dementia

Providing the best dementia care stems from a better understanding of the condition, and the experiences people on their dementia journey go through. Technological innovation is giving everyone the opportunity to give the best care possible to their loved ones through virtual reality.

A Walk Through Dementia is an app and headset that uses virtual reality to put people in the shoes of a person living with dementia. One of the experiences is a trip to the supermarket, typically a very simple task. For people with dementia, simple navigation and planning can end up very confusing for the individual. The immersive experience aims to battle the stigma associated with dementia and create an open awareness of the everyday battles they experience. By understanding some of the experiences that people with dementia face, care givers, family and loved ones can make more informed decisions and provide higher quality care.

One of the key challenges of dementia is apathy; up to 90 per cent of people with dementia can become physically passive for most of the day. This apathetic and withdrawn nature of a person with dementia can lead them to become very lonely, which in turn speeds up cognitive decline. It’s important for people of all ages to understand how to provide the best quality care for people with dementia. As well as innovations directly helping people with dementia such as assistive technology and interactive games, people can contribute to research even if they don’t have dementia.

There is still no cure for dementia, but exciting developments in pioneering technology is helping doctors, scientists and loved ones better understand the condition and subsequently, provide the best care possible.

Through the use of the Tovertafel, we want to create as many daily moments of happiness as possible for people living with dementia. Technology is now enabling that in new and exciting ways.

John Ramsay, CEO, Shift8

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