Tackling dementia within care homes through the use of technology

While people living with dementia will never be cured, there are things that can be done to help them to continue their lives in a way as similar as before. In this article, Blueleaf goes through the most common side effects and symptoms of dementia and how modern technology such as robotics and smart home capabilities can help in reducing some of these symptoms, as well as enhance the standards of care within care establishments. There is now a wider understanding across carers around how to attend to and support dementia residents, with some of the most effective methods involving improving memory through everyday activities.

With dementia and Alzheimer’s disease being the leading cause of death in the UK, it is important to raise awareness around what can be done to help prevent and improve the symptoms. Alzheimer’s Society forecast that a million people in the UK will have dementia by 2021 and workers within the care industry are simply not ready for that challenge.

Dementia and loneliness

Living with dementia can be lonely and confusing, so regular interaction – whether that’s with a loved one or carer – is crucial for providing mental stimulation and monitoring the overall health and wellbeing of people living with the illness. A third of people with dementia said they had lost friends following a diagnosis – the main reason for this being that friends (and family) are scared to visit them as they don’t know how to handle the situation. 

As well as being a symptom of dementia, research shows that loneliness is actually known to increase the risk of dementia as well. Lack of social interaction leaves the mind unengaged and affects cognitive health, often leading to dementia. Loneliness is a sign that your social needs are not being met and maintaining regular cognitive functioning is just as important as staying hydrated, exercising regularly and any other basic day-to-day activity which maintains good health. 

Living in a care home can often lead to feelings of extreme isolation. Certain robotic technologies are helping to tackle this issue – robot carers could be the future for loneliness within care homes. Loneliness is very much manifested in the elderly lifestyle due to many feeling individuals feeling cut off from society. Pepper the robot, an assistant at an Advinia care home was manufactured by SoftBank Robotics as part of a trial, has a function which allows residents to access messages from loved ones, and even play their favourite songs through the use of images, voice and video – significantly reducing the feeling of loneliness. 

Dementia and memory loss

Due to the parts of the brain that are used for learning, memory, decision-making and language becoming damaged or diseased, dementia causes problems with thinking, memory and reasoning. The best approach is to accommodate, not control, troubling behaviour – for example, if the person insists on sleeping in a new place, don’t argue with them, instead work with them to try and make it as comfortable as possible.

Dementia also increases confusion, causing those who suffer from it to become confused in unfamiliar environments and have difficulties with numbers – handling money in shops for example. 

Smart home devices double up as great memory aids for those suffering from dementia and should be adopted by care establishments. Assistive technology that can aid dementia can also often help residents feel safer in their environment, and help with recollection of memory. Devices that offer automated prompts and reminders like digital clocks can also help with simple everyday activities, such as taking medication and locking doors. 

One care home in Germany has seen substantial benefits following the introduction of dynamic lighting with dementia patients. The lighting aids with day-night sleep rhythm, helping residents to rest and feel less agitated.

Dementia and anxiety 

Anxiety is very common in people who suffer from dementia and causes both psychological and physical symptoms. Common behavior changes that people who suffer from dementia and anxiety experience include agitation, hoarding and not wanting to be left alone. As the symptoms of anxiety are quite closely aligned to those of dementia, it can often be easy to overlook the problem and identify the possibility of anxiety. Left untreated, this condition can lead to further complications and deterioration of the patient’s health. 

While antipsychotic medications can be prescribed to help with anxiety, nothing can cure dementia or Alzheimers – a recent study found that laughter really could be the best medicine for residents living with condition. The results showed a 20% reduction in anxiety – the same result as those who took an antipsychotic medication. The Australian study was undertaken over the course of three years and comprised humour therapists being tasked with getting 400 dementia suffers to laugh more often. 

More recently, studies have been undertaken which are testing Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a powering tool in the fight against mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Tools are being created which allow the opportunity for online cognitive behavioral therapy, which in turn relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety.  

There are also AI-backed chatbots available which allow users to partake in conversation using video, text and emojis. Of course it is no real replacement for human-to-human interaction, but it certainly is a step towards fighting anxiety and depression – particularly within the elderly living in care establishments, who may not have an array of visitors coming to see them on a regular basis.  

Dementia and mobility problems

As dementia affects the normal functioning of the brain, it is common for various mobility problems to be developed, which can sometimes lead to falls and injuries. This can be incredibly frustrating for those suffering from dementia, and whilst aids such as wheelchairs, walking sticks and stairlifts can be helpful, technology has moved on since the invention of such devices and assistive technologies which help with mobility shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Nowadays, there are many forms of assistive technologies and devices which offer mobility assistance and are continually becoming increasingly more advanced. From stair climbing wheelchairs to walking assistance and mobile tracking using GPS signal, these particular technologies and apps can be used for a variety of purposes, including safe walking and the ability to navigate around unfamiliar places. Additional benefits include improved confidence for the patient due to increased independence and autonomy.

Telecare and home monitoring systems are helpful in situations in which a patient might fall over or out of bed, or wander off and get lost. These monitoring systems send a signal and alert the carer of any potential emergencies, allowing the patient’s well being to be in safe hands at all times. 

The future of tackling dementia

Whilst there are many technologies out there that can help improve some symptoms of dementia, there are some recent studies which show how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could actually help predict dementia years ahead of diagnosis. So while it isn’t curable, there are some aspects which point to it being preventable. Analysis by Age UK indicated that lifestyle choices were responsible for 76% of changes in the brain and that people could go some way to avoiding the disease by adopting or quitting certain habits which have an affect on cognitive activities. Partaking in regular exercise to avoid cognitive decline or adopting a medittearean diet to reduce bad cholesterol are both found to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The cost of dementia to the UK economy reportedly stands at £23 billion a year, so an early diagnosis could save the country a lot of money, not to mention a whole host of benefits for the individual at risk. 

Better prevention and diagnosis early on, alongside improved caregiving support and wider residential options are just a few of the solutions that have been recognised as being paramount to effectively managing the condition of this widespread issue. Having said that, these aren’t solutions that can be achieved overnight, and a greater overall awareness and collaborative working across multiple sectors, for many years to come is what will really make a difference in tackling dementia. 

 

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