Safety and Smart Innovations That Help People With Alzheimer’s

We are truly living in a technological age. People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementias can take full advantage of the innovation that technology has and continues to offer. From diagnosis to supported living, technologies are available to support you and your loved one to live with optimal independence.

Key takeaways:
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    Technology does not replace human connection but can provide needed resources that may not be available in your area.
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    Diagnosis and follow-up medical appointments can be conducted through video platforms such as Telemedicine when in-person appointments may not be possible.
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    Medication reminders and medication dispensing systems may increase medication compliance and reduce hospital admissions.
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    Smart devices and remote monitoring may help your loved one with Alzheimer’s remain safely supported at home.

While technology cannot replace human connection, it may provide peace of mind for loved ones and increase opportunities for relationships. It’s a matter of knowing what is available and its benefits.

Telemedicine

The Pandemic forced many healthcare providers to pivot to video platforms in record numbers to provide healthcare when in-person assessments were almost halted. However, even before the Pandemic, the use of Telemedicine video platforms by doctors and other healthcare providers had already increased.

While video conferencing cannot take the place of an in-person physical assessment, there are advantages to using this medium in dementia diagnosis.

People living in rural communities with no local specialist may benefit from a “virtual” appointment. Early diagnosis of cognitive impairment is essential to possibly initiate treatment for dementia or treat a reversible cause of cognitive decline.

Dr. Tracy Cheng, a Geriatric Psychiatrist and Associate Clinical Professor at McMaster University use Telemedicine technology in a clinic that serves a largely rural population of older adults. Dr. Cheng estimates that up to 65% of the older adults in her clinical practice have some degree of cognitive decline.

Patients are pre-screened by a registered nurse for issues such as severe hearing impairment or delusions that may make video conferencing challenging. Cognitive screening is often conducted before the virtual assessment.

The Memory and Aging Center at the University of California developed a collaborative dementia care program called the Care Ecosystem. This program assists people living at home with dementia with the necessary education, support, and care coordination. The caregiver and person with dementia have regular phone and video calls with a team of dementia specialists. This helps foster relationships and deal with concerns contributing to caregiver burnout.

Many insurers, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private companies, are beginning to cover some Telehealth programs. A recent study of the Care Ecosystem in three states supports its effectiveness. Data supports that emergency room visits decreased in people with dementia and their families, and evidence of improved physical and mental health and well-being.

Supported living

People with dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may wish to continue living in their homes independently. Several technologies in the current market assist in managing everyday activities. These innovations can help someone living with dementia to remain safer at home and delay or avoid moving to an assisted living facility.

Video apps

Research that studied social interactions through technology showed that participating in regular online chats may improve memory. Phone and tablet applications like Zoom and Skype are easily downloaded so that someone can maintain some visual contact with family and friends.

Having some ability to manage the device may become more complex as dementia progresses but having a caregiver present is also helpful. There are also Smart device systems (Google Nest and Alexa Echo Show) specifically for video calls that are simple to activate and maintain a connection with your loved one.

Orientation

Disorientation over time is often an early sign of dementia. Losing track of dates, seasons, and events can cause anxiety and increased confusion in a person with Mild Cognitive Impairment or early-stage dementia.

Electronic display clocks, sometimes called Dementia Clocks or Day Clocks”, have a visual display of the date, including the year and time of day. In addition, some clocks have an audio “talking clock” feature that is helpful in the case of people with impaired vision. These electronic devices can establish a routine and reduce confusion.

Medication compliance

With over one-third of drug-related hospital admissions listed as preventable, ensuring medication compliance is key to safety in older adults. Using reminder alarms or applications on a smartwatch or phone is a free download on most operating systems.

More elaborate medication dispensing systems such as Spencer are growing in popularity and are becoming more cost-effective. These closed systems are sometimes prepared in the pharmacy with an alarm to alert the person to take their medication.

Suppose the person does not take medicine at a pre-determined time. In that case, some systems have blue tooth technology to alert a family member if there is a missed medication.

Safety and security

Medical Alert systems are wearable devices, including some Smartwatches, that people can activate in a health emergency. These systems may also have a “falls detect” feature. When activated, these alarms contact the person's family member/emergency contact person or call 911.

Wandering is present in at least 60% of people with dementia who live in the community, so many devices now have GPS tracking systems. The danger of wandering can be life-threatening, so these tracking systems can provide peace of mind for family members. In addition, these devices now come in more fashionable designs and look less like a "device".

Electronic door alarms are also available to alert family members that a door has opened with the possibility the person with dementia may be exiting the home.

Remote cameras

With their loved one’s consent, families can set up remote cameras to monitor their safety. A camera focused on an outside door can provide an alert if someone with dementia attempts to exit the home. Another could be in the kitchen to ensure they eat and drink throughout the day. Some cameras may also have motion detector lights at night to illuminate a clear path to help prevent falls.

Smart home devices

Several devices are now available with the expansion of smart home technology. These include home automation for lighting, temperature regulation, and an apparatus for controlling appliances such as a stove shut-off or a water leak detector.

In addition, voice-activated Smart Speakers (such as Alexa or Google Assistant) can manage automation in the home or even issue reminders to do things like "lock your door." These devices can also use an application to link your device with your loved one’s system.

This linkage enables the device to detect things like smoke alarm activation or the sound of shattering glass.

Current technology enables older adults with mild cognitive impairment or dementia to access specialists for prompt diagnosis and monitoring. That same technology can offer assistance and education for that person and their caregivers.

Safety and “Smart” innovations can support people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias to live as safely as they can in their homes for as long as possible and provide peace of mind for their families. While never a substitute for being “in-person,” technological innovations can provide valuable support.

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