How technology can help people living with dementia

Technology has the potential to makes life easier for each and every one of us. Whether it’s helping us get from point A to B or connecting us with friends and family around the world, the impact of technology in society can be seen every day.

We now have smart devices and smart homes, this means that the range of technology we own and use is highly personal and readily available.

For people living with dementia this offers greater choice and opportunity for independent living. For care partners and families it can offer practical solutions to supporting care tasks and provide reassurance that a loved one is safe. Assistive or enabling technologies are any item, device, program or system that can be used to support a person with dementia to maintain their preferred lifestyle, to compensate for changes associated with dementia and to manage specific tasks. This can be an everyday item, such as a smart phone or a tablet, or a system of sensors and monitors designed specifically for use with people with dementia (referred to as telecare). We explore some of the ways in which technology can support people living with dementia here.

Staying Connected

Technology can help people living with dementia stay connected to their loved ones. Many people use smart phones and tablets to program phone contact lists or use video calls to check in on relatives. For the person who are unable to navigate modern phones there are also phones available that have large photos of family and places on tactile buttons so, no confusing screens or menus. They can be worn by the person and include Global Positioning System (GPS) options, SOS buttons and a list of medical and emergency contacts.

Photos can be added to tablets and televisions on a slide show and talking photograph frames and albums can also help people remember names, dates and other details of people who are important with pre-recorded messages and reminders.

Managing routines

Technology helps orientate all of us. When a person has dementia this is an essential part of managing routines and can also help minimise stress and frustration. Clocks are available which shows the hour, day of the week and the time of day (whether morning, afternoon or night) to help orientate. Clocks and alarms help the person with when to get up and go to bed and with important routines for meal times.

Making medication administration safer and simpler is also important. Reminders can be set on smart phones and tablets but there are also automated pill dispensers that not only remind people to take their medication, they also open the pill dispensor on schedule. Similarly, wearable devices can trigger an alarm or vibrate when it’s time to take medicine. Some pill dispensers can even notify care partners if a medication time appears to have been missed.

Managing the home

Dementia-enabling environments can also be facilitated by technology. New designs includes everything from lights that switch on and off automatically when they detect movement to reminders which are triggered by activities such as opening a wardrobe. Thermal comfort, appropriate lighting and light levels, and managing noise are all areas which can be supported by smart homes and specially designed sensors.  

Shopping can be done using the internet of things (internet). Applications on smart phones and tablets (apps) for preferred stores are available and deliveries can be arranged. Some refrigerators have this feature built in and will automatically re-order items such as milk.

Reminders can be set for household refuse collections and other important domestic tasks.

Safety and Security

Families and care partners often worry about the safety of a loved one with dementia when they are not with them. Some devices can alert care partners if the person has a fall or goes out during the night. Safety devices such as smoke detectors, bath plugs which unplug automatically if bath water levels have gone over a certain level, or switches that turn off electric and gas appliances automatically, can help the person with dementia manage their routines safely and provide reassurance to family and friends. If you are worried about your own safety or that of someone else you can contact Dementia Support Australia on 1800 699 799 (free call in Australia) or via the web www.dementia.com.au.

Final Thoughts

Assistive and enabling technologies should be used to benefit the person with dementia. It is important that the choice of device, and what it will do, fits with the person’s preferred lifestyle and current technology know how and use. It helps to start by thinking about the person and the problem that you are trying to solve. The existing technology that you already have could be used to resolve the issue.

There are a wide range of apps and dementia specific low-cost items available. Some smart home devices such as wireless, voice- command speakers can manage many aspects of the home and be used to make phone calls etc. Where more expensive telecare items are needed, this should be done with advice; thinking about costs, maintenance and who will respond if a sensor is activated. Finally and most importantly, the person with dementia should be the focus of the discussion.