The increasing number of seniors and near-seniors experiencing dementia in the United States is on a rapid rise. A hallmark of cognitive decline is a long pre-clinical phase followed by an actual medical diagnosis that progresses from early to middle and late-stage dementia. Poor memory, agitation, confusion, and understandable fear of the future are some of the first characteristics a senior may experience as cognitive decline takes hold. It is a frightening diagnosis for anyone’s future well-being.
When symptoms begin to show there are some relatively simple technologies available that will enhance the seniors’ at home safety and provide a level of comfort as they begin their first steps in what can multi-year journey of dementia. These technology tools can reduce feelings of overwhelming for caregivers and their loved ones who are living with the disease. While some of the devices may seem quite simple to those without problems of cognition they can improve the quality of life for all involved.
People living with dementia often confuse day and night and can become distraught as they argue with a caregiver about time. A specially designed clock for those with dementia can alleviate the confusion and allow a caregiver to maintain routine behaviors. Some of these clocks do not give the actual time but rather a simple display design identifying morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Other clocks will display the date, time of day and day of the week in on either a 12 or 24-hour display which can be particularly helpful to a veteran who lived their life on military time. The clock also has a multilingual feature and can be set in 8 different languages.
Google has a screensaver clock app that is visible at all times displaying the day of the week and morning, afternoon and night. Many clock app designs allow for thousands of options allowing intensive customization. Finally, combination clocks with large magnifying aids and numbers offer both digital and analog, the day of the week, and more – all in oversized text.
Adaptive phones and video chat devices that are preprogrammed with frequently dialed numbers on large buttons or with picture identification allows a dementia patient ease of use in staying connected to loved ones. Staying in touch with friends and family is essential to the well-being of seniors experiencing cognitive decline. Often, a person living with dementia will forget what a person said or did, but they seem to be able to remember how it made them feel. The senior might hang up the phone after a FaceTime or Skype and not remember who they just spoke to but still feel better for it.
If the senior lives alone, electrical appliance use monitoring can alert a caregiver if an appliance has not turned on or off. This tool plugs into a power strip or wall outlet and can provide additional safety for the senior at home alone in the event a stove was left on, as well as let a caregiver know if the senior is remembering to eat or cook for themselves by monitoring the kitchen appliances.
People with dementia could wander and even become lost. Wearable GPS location and tracking devices have many options that can alert a caregiver what room in the home a loved one is occupying. If they walk outside to retrieve their mail and forget to come back in a caregiver can be alerted remotely and perform a location and wellness check. If the senior does not get out of bed and move to the kitchen for breakfast or a recliner to watch television a caregiver will be alerted. Anything that is outside of the expected routine of the senior with dementia can become an alert to a caregiver.
Companion care robots have several positive benefits in the homes of people with dementia. Robots can decrease rates of neglect or abuse by assisting an overwhelmed human caregiver. When a caregiver’s workload is reduced through the use of robots, they have more time to focus on human interaction, typically with a better attitude. Caregivers can then become better listeners and observers as well as have time to identify and address key patient issues. In the absence of a human caregiver a chatbot, similar to a smart home assistant, can bring conversation, daily reminders, read or play games and answer questions for a person living with dementia. Companion care robots are a new standard of caregiving because of the multitude of tasks it can perform and alerts it can provide.
Smart home environmental controls can adjust thermostats and turn lights on and off providing a safer and more comfortable living space. They are also capable of sending alerts via smartphones in the event of an unforeseen event or change in patterned patient behavior. Smart homes coupled with in-home cameras are a great way to ensure the safety of a person with dementia. Cameras that allow two-way conversation as well as provide a visual projection of medication sites, relaxation areas and more allow a remote caregiver to monitor their loved one’s movement. Alerts are sent if no motion has been detected for a set time.
Medication management and reminder messages provide additional support for a person living with dementia at home. Whether a high-tech pill dispenser or pillbox marked with days of the week, a vibrating alarm on a watch or scheduled audible reminder from a smart assistant or chatbot can help keep a patient taking the correct dosage of medication at the proper time. Medication management through technology tools helps avoid a potentially catastrophic situation of incorrect or no dosage.
These technology tools are useful to all seniors living at home but especially to those suffering cognitive decline. Establishing repeatable, patterned behavior through these tools creates a structure that alleviates some of the more frustrating aspects of losing memory. Caregivers can focus on the more human-oriented tasks and loved ones from far away can maintain a connection as well as monitor the well-being of their family members. As a family, and even in the absence of a dementia diagnosis, setting these tech tools in place is a smart idea for a senior living at home alone.
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