Caregivers play a fundamental role in looking after people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other cognitive illnesses. They often have close personal relationships with service users and their families and are intimately involved in their families.
At the same time, agencies are under increasing pressure to increase service quality against a background of public sector budget cuts. That’s why new technological solutions are in growing demand.
We see these technologies as ways to complement and supplement face-to-face contact – not replace it. People with dementia can be given tools that increase their safety and security, let them stay independent for longer, and make coping with illness a little easier.
New apps, wearables and services
Exciting technological innovations are expanding the options available to caregivers. New services can be offered and increasingly tailored care plans are becoming commercially viable.
Opt-in apps and devices that collect, measure and analyse data can flag up issues sooner, letting carers and clinicians respond sooner and adjust plans accordingly. Smart, holistic services augmented through technology can also help agencies to personalise their services. This increases quality and creates value without significantly increasing costs.
Apps are now available for setting reminders for daily tasks like locking the front door or taking medication. Some offer automated notifications that tell carers when something has been done or missed, reducing response time when things go wrong.
Other apps give carers the opportunity to create profiles for the people in patients’ lives, where details are recorded about how they know someone, the different facets of that relationship, and key information to anchor conversations. Technology for reminiscence also facilitates discussion by bringing to life historical events such as famous sports matches.
As awareness grows, new online platforms are launching designed for people to rate a place’s dementia-friendliness make it easier for caregivers to successfully organise trips, confident that adequate facilities will be in place when they get there.
Advances in wearable technology means increasingly discreet ways for people to carry GPS tracking, which alerts carers should someone become lost. Shoes, jackets and other items can all be fitted with these devices, and services can be programmed to contact the right person automatically. Contact information and identification can also easily be encoded in objects like bracelets.
This all reduces self-consciousness and helps to overcome resistance, and avoids stigma – perceived or real – to using wearables in public.
A bright future
Many of these new technologies mean that collaboration between agencies can be greatly improved with opt-in data sharing to reduce duplication and ensure caregivers to stay coordinated, either within a single agency or across multiple organisations.
At the cutting edge, research and development in machine learning and AI has huge potential to create technology that can understand and analyse patterns of behaviour, before intelligently anticipating patient needs.
All in all, it is an exciting time for technology in dementia healthcare. Despite financial and demographic pressures from an ageing population, a significant shift toward more patient-centric care and transformational technology are offering opportunities to make care smarter, more responsive and keep people independent for longer.
Author: Eva Lajko