An enduring fact of memory care is that person-to-person care from compassionate, knowledgeable staff is key. But nearly every other aspect of memory care operations and therapy can be enhanced with technology.
Alzheimer’s disease and related types of dementia provide unique challenges that make memory care one of the most demanding categories of senior living. Memory care providers must be prepared to handle difficult behaviors such as wandering, and to care for residents with steadily increasing needs who may require significant supervision. Enriching the day-to-day lives of memory impaired residents is also a unique challenge.
More and more providers are recognizing the role that technology can play in addressing these challenges, and in improving the quality of life of memory impaired residents.
Here are three technologies that are altering landscape of memory care within senior living:
1. Remote Monitoring
Due to unpredictable changes in health status, behavior, and functioning, memory care residents require an exceptional degree of oversight, which can severely tax caregiving staff. Powered by constantly learning artificial intelligence, remote monitoring technologies dramatically enhance the capability of a community to recognize warning signs that a resident might be at risk, and also to track the progression of a resident’s dementia.
An article in the quarterly journal of the Alzheimer’s Association explains: “Remote monitoring systems provide valuable backup, since they operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In nursing homes, where professional caregivers are often overworked or may be unfamiliar with the medical history of their charges, monitoring systems have the potential to identify anomalous behavior that might be missed…Feasibility studies indicate that monitoring systems are very beneficial.”
Passive remote monitoring systems can also automate fall risk assessment, detect signs of an impending pressure ulcer, and even detect illnesses before they are readily apparent.
Remote monitoring allows staff to prioritize their attention, and affords them more time for ever crucial positive interactions with residents.
2. Assistive Technology
Assistive technology for people with dementia is most commonly thought of as something for seniors who still live at home. Yet these technologies can dramatically improve the lives of memory care residents as well. There are a broad range of assistive technologies, ranging from the simple to the futuristic, that have the potential to better the lives of memory care residents.
Current examples of assistive technologies include tools such as clocks designed to “help ease dementia-related anxiety”, automatic lights, and communication aids which allow a resident to videochat with a distant loved one with the click of a button.
Emerging assistive technology may do even more. George Vrandenburg, CEO of the Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease, believes that Google Glass or similar devices may be able to serve as a “brain prosthetic” or “memory support system” for people with dementia – recognizing faces, providing memory cues, reminders, and directions.
When considering assistive technologies, providers have had the task of distinguishing assistive technologies that are ultimately impractical gimmicks from those that truly make a difference in residents’ lives. Bearing this in mind, communication aids have been one of the most widely adopted assistive technologies, because the benefit of connectivity with loved ones and friends is so obvious. As more and more assistive technologies come to market, providers are wise to carefully evaluate what tools would be most beneficial to their unique resident population.
3. Interactive Multimedia
Memory care residents’ quality of life is enhanced greatly with access to interactive multimedia that is appropriate to their level of functioning. Interactive multimedia can include:
Games: Numerous games have been designed to comfort or stimulate people with memory impairment. One interesting example under development is a soothing and immersive “virtual forest” for dementia patients that creates a “sensory therapeutic environment.”
Brain Teasers: No technology can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or other common types of dementia, but mental stimulation in the form of brain games may benefit the quality of life, and even mental functioning, of memory care residents.
Therapy: Non-chemical approaches to Alzheimer’s therapy have been built around interactive media, and seen some success. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease who received therapy with an interactive, computer based “integrated psychostimulation program” had better outcomes on memory tests than study participants who did not receive the therapy with interactive media. This difference between participants who received the multimedia therapy from those who did not was detectable even five months after the therapy included, indicating a lasting value. With tools such as It’s Never Too Late, senior living communities now have affordable access to consumer-grade equivalents of these interactive devices that have been linked to improved cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.
What technologies do you think memory care providers should adopt? What is the place of technology in a memory care community? Share your comments below.