Fortunately, the availability of assistive technology and a variety of gadgets can help to make everyday tasks easier for elderly people with dementia.
Every 67 seconds, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
It's a shocking statistic, but it's only the beginning. One in three seniors dies with the disease or other symptoms of dementia, and Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country, ranking before diabetes and suicide.
It's alarmingly prevalent, but the realities of dementia are often ignored until it hits close to home, impacting a loved one or even you. It is important to give those living with the [disease] an enhanced, comfortable day-to-day experience.
That’s where assistive technology — both high and low tech — becomes important.
Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer's Association, says assistive tech that enhances the livable experience of someone with Alzheimer’s is essential. But the type of tech that actually enhances livability isn’t standard for everyone.
"What can be almost miraculous to one person may not work for someone else,” Drew tells Mashable. “You want to look at each individual and think about where they are having a little trouble, and if there’s some kind of simple accommodation we can make that would just make things a little easier.”
These tech solutions, however, need constant monitoring and evaluation as the disease progresses to make sure a person's experience is still being enhanced
“It’s important to realize it may help now, but it may not help later," Drew says. "If it works, great, but there may be a time when it stops working — and then you just find something else that can work.”
Here are six innovations that can help individuals living with dementia — and their caretakers — live a little more comfortably.
1. Clear, Concise Clocks
As symptoms progress, those living with dementia often lose the ability to keep track of time. This makes maintaining a daily routine, which helps ease anxious feelings by providing comfort of the expected, especially difficult.
Analog clocks can be hard to decipher for those living with dementia. Large-font digital clocks, complete with month and day information, are easier to read and help give context to the numerical time. Alternative options, such as clocks that display the day of the week and whether it is morning, afternoon or night, also complement standard clocks by providing more information, leading to more comfort
2. Motion-sensor Lights
Motion-sensor lights are commonly used in office settings to help conserve energy. In the case of those living with dementia, they can help relieve a person from needing to keep track of light switches, which can become an overwhelming task.
These types of lights are also helpful at night, decreasing the chance of falling — a common worry for those with dementia — by illuminating a room in case a person forgets about lights and their function. It’s important to note that for some living with dementia, automatic lights can be alarming — so make sure it isn’t frightening to your loved one before implementing them in your home.
3. Eatwell Dining Sets
Due to the cognitive and sensory impairments associated with Alzheimer’s, people living with the disease commonly spill their food, are left confused by intricate patterns on dinnerware and frequently eat less than they should out of frustration. Eatwell dining sets, created by industrial designer Sha Yao, can help curb those frustrations.
From sloping bowls to bright, appetite-stimulating colors, the sets are designed with meticulous detail and comprehensive attention.
4. Low-tech Labels
Something as low-tech as a piece of paper and a marker can have a positive impact, even if it doesn't seem innovative. Labeling different rooms and commonly used items in the house can help a person living with dementia have more clarity of thought when navigating day-to-day tasks.
Drew says written labels, or even simple pictures of items like toilets and refrigerators, help those with dementia know what to expect in certain spaces of the house, making living alone less overwhelming.
5. Movement Sensors and Pressure Mats
Perhaps one of the scariest symptoms of dementia is the tendency to wander. Caregivers are often tasked with keeping track of a loved one who may walk off without notice, which can be overwhelming and almost impossible to navigate — especially at night.
One 15-year-old inventor, Kenneth Shinozuka, gained attention last year for creating socks with integrated sensors, which send a warning to a caregiver via an app when their loved one gets up suddenly and unexpectedly. Other pressure sensitive tech, like pressure mats, can be slept on or placed on the floor, alerting a caretaker when someone rises from bed or steps on the mat.
6. GPS Tracking
You probably use GPS to navigate unfamiliar territory in your car, making driving anywhere a breeze. But GPS systems aren't only valuable as a high-tech map. They can also help you find your love one if they’ve wandered off without your knowledge.
There are many options for tracking with a GPS, including pendants such as MindMe that are also equipped with an emergency alert button, and shoes with “smart soles” that pinpoint location via an app. When coupled with sensor technology, the reality that your loved one may wander off seems much more manageable with these safeguards in place.
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