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How Tech Can Help Caregivers Deal with Dementia

July 22, 2019 
By Laurie Orlov

Discover technology that can help you manage the various stages of dementia

Laurie Orlov
Laurie is a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker, and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch. She conducts market research, follows trends, and writes reports about technologies and services that enable boomers and seniors to remain longer in their home of choice.
DementiaInfo-1009477172

Caregivers can help care for their loved ones with dementia with these apps and devices:

  • Motion sensors
  • Fall detection
  • Smart doorbells
  • Smart thermostats
  • Medication reminders
  • GPS tracking
  • Smart speakers
  • Driving assistance

The phone rang at work—it was my mother, hysterical because she had just driven the wrong way to get to her house. My sister and I, both working and unable to provide full-time care, were uncertain as to what lie ahead, but certain that we were unprepared for it. That event was the first sign of a decline in mom’s competence and health that would ultimately span 10 years. It also marked the beginning of a 10-year training period for us, mom’s family.

During those 10 years, mom moved multiple times—from home to apartment to assisted living to skilled nursing facilities. Each move was wrenching, and each place required painful adjustments for my sister and me.

If you are experiencing painful adjustments while caring for a loved one with dementia, today there are tech tools available that can help you with these challenges.

 

In This Article, We’ll Cover:

  • Is it dementia?
  • Find support
  • Tech tools for 3 stages of dementia

 

First, Is It Dementia?

Your loved one may say or forget things that make you wonder if it’s dementia or just a normal part of aging. Try persuading them to get an evaluation from a professional. If they're hesitant, a self-assessment could be used to encourage a visit to a professional. The doctor will help determine the type and stage of dementia and whether it is likely to be Alzheimer’s disease or some other type. If it is Alzheimer’s disease (60-80% of those with dementia), there is typically a slow progression over time. The chances are good that your family member can remain at home through early stages, even continuing to live alone.

 

Second, Find Support

If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they (and you) may need some support. Seek out support groups and if needed, seek a professional like a geriatric care manager who can help plan and coordinate care to help your loved one maintain their quality of life.

As an additional form of support, consider the use of technology. Technology can alert family members in the event of a problem and promote peace of mind. Technology can also help someone living with dementia to stay in his/her home for longer, which is the wish of most people.

 

Third, Tech Tools for 3 Stages of Dementia

People can continue to live with dementia for years, and they go through different stages of the disease. Learn about the categories of technology that are most useful at each of the three stages of dementia described below.

 

The Early Stage of Dementia

In the early stages, you and your family will worry. Even after a diagnosis, you’ll continue to wonder whether it really is dementia and look for another test you can do at home. But maybe you’ll also be concerned with the day-to-day activities of daily living (ADLs), especially if your loved one is living alone. Perhaps there is an unrelated health issue, and you are concerned about whether he/she is taking medications correctly or making it to medical appointments. Issues such as these can be addressed with calendar or reminder technologies.

If your loved one lives with you, you may want to acquire motion sensors or a smart doorbell to know when they are out of bed or near the door.

If your family member is still driving, a smart phone app for turn-by-turn directions as well as a “wearable” to help your loved one find his/her way.

Finally, you may want to focus on maintaining quality of life at home, introducing smart speakers to play music at scheduled times, or even storytelling technology to help your loved one talk about themselves and their lives, which can be a comfort.

Needs of the Early stage

Tech Categories

Examples

Activities of Daily Living

Motion sensors
Medication reminders
Smart doorbells
Smart thermostats

GreatCall Lively Home
MedMinder, PillPack
Ring
Nest

At Home

Smart Speakers
Smartphone assistants
Memory/Stories
Caregiving, Family Support

Amazon Echo, Dot
Google Assistant, Siri,
Alexa
MemoryWell
LifePod
SharetheCare, LotsaHelpingHands

Wandering/Driving

GPS Tracking
Fall detection
Driving

Philips GoSafe, MobileHelp
Philips Auto Alert, FallCall (Apple Watch)
Android Auto, Apple CarPlay

 

The Middle Stage of Dementia (all above plus the following):

When dementia progresses to the point where you are concerned about a person getting lost, it may be time to discuss whether or not they should be driving and encourage walking, if it’s an option. Your loved one’s loss of independence is difficult for both of you to confront, but for safety, it is critical.

At that point, a wearable with location tracking may help keep your loved one safe and reduce worry about getting lost near the home. Home safety needs to be addressed as well, and tools such as an automatic stove shutoff, home alarm system with water detection for faucets that may be left running.

From a health standpoint, it may make sense to have a medication reminder/dispensing system that both alerts about a dosage and only alerts/releases the appropriate medication at the right time.

 

Needs of the Middle stage

Tech Categories

Examples

Care coordination

Private health websites, managing medications

CaringBridge, CareZone

Wander management

Location tracking tools

iTraq, GPS Smart Sole

Mental stimulation

Music Therapy, Personalized content for Dementia

SingFit, iN2L Focus Tablet

Medication management

Pre-loaded dosages released at specific times

Philips Medication Dispensing, MedMinder Jon

Home safety

When loved one is alone in their home

ADT Water Alarm, Cookstop

 

The Advanced Stage of Dementia:

In the more advanced stages of dementia, your loved one might need an in-home care worker while you are out or at work. Or you may hire a round-the-clock caregiver to help your loved one with meals, showers, dressing and other routines. You might want to install a remote camera for peace of mind. Also consider other tools that help comfort and relax your loved one. An adult day center that can provide a full day of activities and interactions for those with dementia is also a resource.

 

Needs of the Advanced stage

Tech Categories

Examples

In-home care services

Home care workers for partial day or full day

Home Instead, RightAtHome, ComfortKeepers

Remote monitoring

Cameras, sensors

Best home security seniors

Engaging seniors

Robotic cats, dogs

Ageless Innovations

Bed/chair exit tools

Alerts when a person gets up

Safe Wandering

Adult day centers

Centers trained in dementia care

About Adult Day Centers

Memory care

Specialized units for those with dementia

About Memory Care

 

Should You Just Move Mom (or Dad) to Assisted Living or a Nursing Home?

For most people, assisted living is not needed in the early stages. And it may be just too expensive. Assisted Living has a median cost of $48,000 per year nationwide, per person, and the nursing home average is more than $90K.1 With the right in-home services, assisted living may be deferred or avoided. 

 

Remember These Tech Tips if Your Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

First, make sure it’s dementia. Ideally, a doctor should make that determination. Self-assessments can also help with the decision to see a doctor. Second, it will be challenging for you to go through this experience alone. Find a dementia caregiver’s support group and consider working with a geriatric care manager. Third, explore tech tools that can help you and your loved one through the various stages of dementia.

 

I Learned the Hard Way

When I cared for my mom, the tech tools described above weren’t yet created. As a result, we were on edge every time the phone rang, because we thought our mom needed help. You don’t need to be. Today’s tools can help families cope and care for a loved with memory loss.

Since your loved one will likely want to remain in their home, find tech tools that can help you provide support for your loved one’s day-to-day life activities. But when memory care is needed, learn about various care options before choosing a location near you.

 

Next Steps:

  1. Find the medical resource you need to obtain an assessment and/or diagnosis
  2. Look for a support group (or a medical or social work professional) who can help with the next steps and decision points
  3. Research tech tools listed in the above charts


1Cost of Care Survey 2018, Genworth, 2018

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