Of all categories of senior care, it could be argued that memory care is one where emerging technologies may make the biggest difference in improving residents’ quality of life. For example, memory care residents often are unable to express their needs clearly, so technologies that aid communication, detect changes in health status and cognition, or help staff to know when a resident is most lucid, all have great potential to empower providers to serve their residents better.
Here are seven ways that technologies that have been recently developed, or that are poised to emerge in the near-future, can improve quality of life of residents at memory care communities:
1. Detecting illnesses
Because memory care residents often do not realize when they are developing an illness such as a UTI or pressure ulcer and may not be able to communicate what’s wrong, thus the illnesses of residents with dementia are often not recognized until they are fairly advanced. Passive monitoring technologies that provide early illness detection are immensely helpful at memory care. This allows staff to begin treatment as early as possible, preventing the potential illness from developing into a more serious issue.
2. Assisting communication with residents
Dementia gradually weakens a senior’s ability to express themselves verbally. But providing quality care entails interacting with residents as much as possible, and understanding their needs and preferences. Communications tools can be used to facilitate interaction with residents who are cognitively impaired. One example is the tablet app, TalkingMats, which provides 35 symbols that residents can use to interact with residents who have communication problems..
3. Soothing stimulation
Memory care residents benefit from soothing stimulation like that provided in Snoezelen rooms, which are also known as “controlled multisensory environments”. Virtual reality tools that aim to provide similar experiences, and that similarly calm residents, are now being developed and may soon have a role in therapies at memory care. For example, one system in development is an explorable virtual reality forest with calming sights and sounds. These tools may one day be common at memory care providers, reducing the agitation that is so commonly associated with moderate to severe dementia. Virtual reality also may provide a safe outlet at memory care for wandering behavior.
4. Recognizing moments of lucidity
Any dementia caregiver will tell you that sufferers have “good days and bad days”. In fact, cognitive function and insight can practically vary from hour to hour. The Alzheimer’s Association is funding research into the development of technologies that can recognize moments of lucidity, which would help memory care providers “find opportune moments for interacting with someone with Alzheimer’s”.
5. Tracking the progression of dementia
Memory care providers can offer more considerate care when they have an understanding of a residents’ current functioning, and insight into the rate of decline each resident is experiencing. Technology may have a hand in helping providers to gauge the progression of cognitive decline among residents without any added human involvement. For instance, the passive monitoring systems that already exist at many communities, in the future, might be able to recognize indicators of changes in cognitive functioning.
The same result might also be achieved with apps that residents enjoy interacting with on an ongoing basis. The apps themselves may appear to be simple games, but these games could provide insight into cognitive functioning using artificial intelligence that has learned to recognize player patterns that are indicative of changes in cognition.
6. Automated detection of negative health events
When senior living residents have a health emergency in their apartment or rooms, there are normally alert systems nearby that lets them ring for help. But memory care residents can have difficulty remember to use such alerts. Already existing passive remote monitoring tools can immediately recognize negative health events such as falls and other health emergencies, alerting staff without any action taken by the resident..
7. Helping residents recognize and remember
One day memory care residents may use technology like Google Glass as a full featured “memory support system”. It could help residents recognize faces of staff and fellow residents, as well as objects around them, their name, and their purpose. This technology could even help residents to navigate the community and find their room if they are lost.
How do you see technology influencing memory care in the next few years, and how might it improve residents’ lives? Which technologies on this list excite you the most? We welcome your comments below.