The Longevity

Existing Technology Could Help Dementia Patients and Caregivers

An article published Tuesday in the American Journal of Accountable Care argued for the implementation of existing technologies in the care of patients with dementia. Improved preventative care, the article argues, leads to reduced need for medical services, and this is an area in with existing tech has been underutilized. A successful dementia care model focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and reducing the caretaker burden- all areas in with the deployment of pre-existing technology can play a role.

In the area of fall prevention, the article focused on wearable systems LegSys (providing gait evaluation) and BalanSens (which provides balance evaluation).

Whereas camera-based motion analysis requires a laboratory setup, LEGSys and BalanSens enable clinicians to perform comprehensive gait and balance assessments in virtually any space, including a patient’s home, and automatically generate a detailed fall risk and balance assessment. With these technologies, clinicians can make prompt assessments and recommendations to keep patients safe in their home. Other portable motion analysis technologies include Physilog and MotionNode.

Also examined were wearable alert systems and sensors to monitor location and send fall or emergency alerts. Emergency alert systems discussed included QMedic and GreatCall Lively, as well as software/hardware solutions for existing wearable devices. Another wearable alert system, CleverCare, incorporates medical alerts and allows caregivers to track a patient’s location and set alerts for specific scenarios. The GPS SmartSole, a smart insole which tracks location, was also mentioned. Remote monitoring tools also promise to reduce safety risks related to wandering: GoLivePhone allows caregivers to access a patient’s location and providers users with directions home if they leave a predetermined area,

A plethora of smart-home devices, though not directly designed for dementia care, were also identified as useful for dementia patients who wish to continue living independently:

Some devices that may be useful for PWD are smart-home sensors that can detect whether doors, cabinets, or windows are left open. Additionally, water leak, carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors can send alerts if levels deviate from normal. Smart-home devices can enable PWD and their caregivers to monitor and manage many of the devices and appliances in their home to help maintain a safe environment and prevent accidents.

Existing technology also promises to reduce mental health issues related to feelings of loneliness and isolation. For example, IndependaTV allows users to communicate with family and loved ones through a television screen, and therapy robots such as PARO the therapeutic seal have been shown to reduce symptoms of isolation:

Surveys and other early studies show promise in PARO’s ability to improve users’ cognition and mood, particularly in elderly populations…Other examples of therapy robots include Joy For All Companion Pets and Ollie the Baby Otter.

Although the report concluded that tech solutions have the potential to improve quality of life and care among dementia patients, there are some barriers to widespread adoption of the technology:

Cost of the technology….Although it may be difficult for individual patients and caregivers to afford these devices, there may be a financial case for health systems or payers to provide these devices to proactively care for their patients and reduce unnecessary healthcare utilization.

Device management…To allow for a more seamless experience and ultimately more effective condition management, developers should integrate multiple existing digital health tools, tailored for the dementia population, into one common platform…Developers should also strive to create interfaces that are simple and intuitive for elderly users and their caregivers.

Acceptance and adaptation…As caregivers assume an integral role in the care of PWD, it is necessary to understand the specific needs of the caregiver–patient dyad and develop technological tools that meet those needs most effectively, while clearly communicating the potential impact of the technology.

Healthcare delivery…There is ample opportunity to integrate digital health technology into healthcare delivery, but payment models and delivery systems must be structured to support these solutions…

Although there is tremendous potential for digital health technology to augment dementia care, the adoption and integration of this technology does not come without challenges, especially for PWD. Ultimately, each individual with dementia needs to be assessed for his or her particular needs, and the appropriate technology must be introduced within that individual’s financial and adaptive capabilities.

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