Within the time you finish reading this, Alzheimer’s disease has been diagnosed in approximately three people.

Advancements in modern technology, however, can have a positive effect on memory care and those affected, by improving quality of life and even slowing the progression of the disease. Whether a person is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or has been battling it for years, various opportunities, ranging from assistive devices to interactive, stimulating multimedia, exist to improve memory care residents’ quality of life.

Tech tools for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s

For those with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s, an assortment of experiences can be implemented within your memory care program.

Many studies, including from The Lancet, have shown that brain training programs such as Dakim BrainFitnessresult in “slower mental decline for older people.” More than 500 communities across the United States, including The Kenwood by Senior Star, where I work, offer the program, which is a web-based brain training program with six essential cognitive domains. Further, the program is clinically proven to significantly improve the two most important cognitive functions — memory (immediate and delayed) and language abilities based on a peer review conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.

Another option is frequently using a senior-friendly tablet or other smart device. Caregivers can customize the device with easily consumable and accessible content, such as photos of family and friends, familiar places or favorite media like books and films.

Caregivers also might consider introducing Skype or another form of communication aid to help residents stay connected with loved ones. Some communities have specific “communication stations” for residents to keep in contact with family members.

Tech tools for late-stage Alzheimer’s

If a resident or loved one is in the later stage of Alzheimer’s, then interactive multimedia such as music or therapy such as a Snoezelen therapy room can ease anxiety and create a calming environment.

At The Kenwood, we offer the Music & Memory Program, which allows staff or family members to check out a community iPod with personalized playlists.

Recently, a family member was visiting with her mother. Her mother is in the later stage of Alzheimer’s and rarely communicates or displays any emotions. When she put headphones on her mother and began playing the selected music, however, the daughter witnessed a complete transformation in her mother’s demeanor. According to the daughter, her mother became more alert and more engaged in her surroundings, smiling and tapping her hand to the beat of the song.

This is just one example of the powerful effects that sensory stimulants have on someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Beyond music, countless apps are designed specifically for those who have the disease. For example, a resident can virtually plant a garden or create a piece of pottery all from a smart device.

Helpful tips for introducing technology

Some may argue that older adults are intimidated or uninterested in using technology. A 2014 study from the Pew Research Center, however, found that 59% of seniors report that they go online; and of those that go online, 71% go online every day. Additionally, a similar study found that 35% of those aged 65 or more years report using social media — more than tripling the number from 2010.  

As with all therapies or interventions, be sure to select the tool that’s right for the individual, as each presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages as well as abilities to engage a person based on the cognitive level at the time.

A helpful tip is to approach the introduction of using a smart device in a context an older adult already may understand. For example, instead of asking a loved one or resident to come sit down at the computer, ask him or her to come look at a picture of family members, which is displayed on the screen. This language will frame the request in a manner that the person is familiar with and won’t confuse him or her or create a feeling of resistance.

Tom Rotz is executive director at The Kenwood by Senior Star in Cincinnati.

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