Assistive Technology for Dementia Sufferers

The cost of dementia to the economy in 2014 was £26 Billion, which is more than both cancer (£18.3 billion) and heart diseases (£15 billion).  Staggering.  As is the fact that the number of dementia sufferers is predicted to increase to over 1 million by 2025.

Advancements in medical technology extends to improving the functional capabilities of those living with dementia. This could allow them to remain in their own environments for longer.  The Alzheimers Society has stated that the routine and familiarity remaining in their own home offers can help to slow down the progression of the disease.

Assistive technology devices for those living with dementia are designed to aid an individual in maintaining a level of independence in day to day living whilst improving their quality of life and reducing potential risks, giving their family peace of mind.

This type of technology is considered ‘passive’ because it does not require the individual to take any action. They work to ensure that a person suffering from dementia is still able to feel confident in their ability to carry out normal daily tasks. Appliances such as automated washing machines, dishwashers, ovens and even talking microwaves are available. There are also devices available that will turn off cookers if they have been on for a certain length of time, or if they reach a certain temperature.

Thermostatic valves can be fitted to limit the temperature of water, or alarms are available that sound when water reaches above the safe temperature range.

Sink plugs with pressure sensors that release water if the basin fills to a certain level means that the individual is able to carry out tasks such as washing up or bathing without over filling or possibly flooding.

Smoke, gas and carbon monoxide alarms are all widely available and the alarms can be linked to a telecare system, many also include options such as lighting or vibration for those who are hard of hearing.

Timers for lights can be easily used to ensure that lights around the home come on in the evening. Plug adapters are also available that switch off appliances that have been left on for a pre-set length of time, such as irons.

Some people with dementia find it difficult to tell the time of day, or day in the week and often find that large bold clocks that show the time, day and date placed where they’ve always had a clock can help in this area.

Talking prompts are especially useful.  They play a pre-recorded message when they sense movement.  So for example, they could be used around doors to remind the individual to lock the door or take keys when they leave.

It’s crucial that medication is taken, but many sufferers have trouble remembering the times and doses they should take. Watches and smart phone applications that issue alarms or reminders to take medication are available as well as automated pill boxes that open at pre-set times to dispense the medication.

A US company, Proteus, have taken things one step further and developed a sensor the size of a poppy seed that will react when stomach fluids are released. The sensor will be incorporated into medication, which when swallowed will emit signals via a wearable patch to a smartphone application to alert caregivers that the medication was taken, along with other information such as sleeping patterns and heart rate. The sensor is currently being trialled both in the UK and the US.

Wearable technology has increased in popularity over the last 12 months. There are now a wide range of devices available that monitor temperature, heart rate, sleep patterns and daily activity that all feedback to a smartphone app or cloud based program that family members and caregivers are able to access. Most are discreet and worn as bracelets or on the skin and some also include fall sensors and can be voice activated.

Telecare systems can be linked to multiple sensors around the home and can include remote listening or monitoring devices. They have historically been provided by social services but an increasing number of families are choosing to install private systems that will alert them directly if a sensor is set off. Not only a tool to be proactive should a potential danger arise, but monitoring habits and activities will allow you to think ahead to the next level of care or areas that need to be assisted more heavily than others.

All the tools mentioned can of course be used within the care home setting as well, helping to allow individuals to maintain a level of independence that they might not otherwise have.  There are positive and negative attributes to assistive technology and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The technology and devices should always serve to enable capability and confidence and shouldn’t be restrictive in any way. It’s advised that consent is sought wherever possible.  If you are having any difficulty making decision when it comes to privacy and assistive technology – you may find The Mental Capacity Act (2005) of use. Dementia is an illness that can bring isolation and confusion for all involved, but there are a number of local and national businesses and organisations to offer support and advice to ensure that decisions are made that leave everyone feeling confident, in control and safe.

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