Colin Capper, Head of Research Development and Evaluation at Alzheimer’s Society details how assistive technology can help people with dementia lead independent lives…
There are 850,000 people in the UK living with a form of dementia. At Alzheimer’s Society, people with dementia tell us that they would prefer to remain in their own homes and independent for as long as possible. Two-thirds of people with dementia live within the community, with over 30% of these people living alone.
People with dementia can face a number of challenges around the home. There are many daily tasks to remember and carry out, as well as various potential health and safety risks. In order to promote their autonomy and to provide reassurance to carers, important technologies have been developed to support people with dementia to manage day-to-day life and remain at home for longer.
Assistive technology refers to a device or system that supports a person with dementia to maintain or improve their independence, safety and wellbeing. Rather than aid with physical difficulties, such as mobility problems, the term more often refers to technologies that assist people to manage the cognitive symptoms of the condition, for example loss of memory, orientation or communication. They help make daily life easier in a variety of ways, from supporting a person in remembering to make breakfast or have a shower, to improving their safety by managing risks around the home, such as remembering to lock the front door or turn the oven off. They can also help to monitor their health.
Safety, particularly if a person with dementia lives alone, is often a concern for the individual and their carer. Devices such as floor sensors can allow a family to check in on the wellbeing of their loved one and to react quickly should the person have had a fall or be at risk. Tracking devices or location-monitoring services can ensure that a person with dementia does not wander or get lost.
Using assistive technology has many potential benefits, but it can also pose difficulties. While it can allow people with dementia to feel safe at home and reassures carers, it is crucial that technology never replaces human contact. Continued social interaction and stimulation is important for people with dementia and it is vital that family members continue to visit and spend time with the individual. Some devices can be used as a tool to aid conversations or stimulate memories, such as a digital photo frame which allows people to reminisce or a tablet to support Skyping children overseas.
Devices that increase safety can offer greater peace of mind for both the person with dementia and their family or carers; however it is crucial to remember that they will not eliminate all risks. Assistive technology helps to improve wellbeing by reducing risks in the home, but it must never be considered a perfect solution.
There is no one-size-fits-all resolution and a device that may greatly help one person could be distressing or confusing to another. When making choices about whether to use a certain technology, it is crucial the person with dementia is involved in the decision-making process and, where possible, their consent should always be sought and given. The chosen technology should be personalised to suit their individual needs.
As a result of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge and Dementia Friendly Communities campaign, Alzheimer’s Society set up a task and finish group on dementia-friendly technology in October 2013. The group created a dementia-friendly technology charter, which aims to improve the lives of people living with dementia by helping them access technology that may be of benefit, and encouraging best practice among organisations that provide services to these individuals.
Although it can greatly benefit the lives of people with dementia, assistive technology is currently an unregulated area and so cannot be prescribed. It is difficult to say with confidence whether technologies are effective and awareness of the range of technologies that are available remains low Because of this, health professionals may feel reluctant to recommend a particular device or systems to an individual.
Many companies are now moving to create dementia friendly devices or systems to make their products less confusing or difficult to use. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recently announced that it would now be working with the pharmaceutical industry to optimise the presentation of medicines for Alzheimer’s disease. Lloyds Pharmacy has also created the Better Life Healthcare range, which offers a range of assistive technology solutions.
It is always advisable to seek professional advice before buying devices. An occupational therapist, adult social services assistive technology or telecare team (contact your local council), or a local assisted living centre will all have expertise in this area. Your GP or social worker should also be able to help you find an expert and get an assessment.
More information about assistive technology can be found at www.alzheimers.org.uk/technologycharter
You can find a range of assistive technology devices for sale online at the Alzheimer’s Society shop: www.shop.alzheimers.org.uk
Head of Research Development and Evaluation