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Technology in Dementia

For many years I have been sceptical about the potential of technology in cognitive decline. Not against it but sceptical and I must admit a little frustrated that a lot of money went into shiny looking flash-in-the-pan tech that went out of fashion a few months later. At Atlas, we kept an open mind to using the latest tech and over the years have trialled Virtual Reality, motion sensor games, Nintendo, and tablets. Each had short term benefits, short term attention spans and worked well as a marketing tool to engage families but didn’t appear to impact the person or the illness. We quickly reverted back to the core therapies based on social connections.

This year I have seen the light! I have recognised and seen the opportunities and potential technology brings to holistic dementia treatment and support. Attitudes within the community have changed radically in the last 12 months and this has allowed us to take advantage of some clever technology that I believe can do 3 things for families across the UK:

  1. Reduce the financial burden
  2. Improve Quality of Life (happiness)
  3. And maintain cognitive health

Alongside the change in attitude to tech within the older population, there has also arisen a greater need. Covid has reduced access to community support, reduced the number of voluntary organisations and traditional social interactions have been seen as high risk. All of us have been forced indoors and this has seen a devastating collapse in older peoples mental health (both those with cognitive decline and those without).

Finally, in the last 20 years, we have seen an increasing move towards individualised living. By that I mean an expectation and desire for products and services to cater for me, not in a generic sense but personally for me; my interests, my needs, my desires, now. This has crept across from the large technology platforms like Google and Facebook into the local way we view care. This is particularly important in dementia, where each person’s version of the disease is unique! The only way to cater to that is by making the most of tech platforms that allow us to both offer and demand a personal experience.

Technology has been a core part of many areas of healthcare for years, including robots in surgery, telehealth and algorithms to predict disease. I believe technology in dementia is now starting and is the future.

If you would like to talk to me or a member of my team about the benefits of technology in dementia care, please phone 01626 774 799 or email [email protected].

Positive Risk and Dementia

How to manage risk when living with and helping those living with dementia is often misunderstood and filled with misinformation. More and more the latest research suggests dementia should be viewed as a disability rather than a disease. If you, therefore, see this as a palliative disability than our aim should be to allow the individual to live life to the fullest, to change the world around them in order to enable them to live a life rich in choice and stimulation.

However, this is not always easy (particularly in the later stages of the disease) for several reasons:

  • The individual themselves can find choice and risk anxiety-provoking
  • Physical disability can limit opportunities
  • Family and friends misperception of dementia may make them resistant to allowing choice
  • We can all fall into Kitwood’s malignant social psychology and infantilise the adult (treat like a child) this is often because the power balance shifts and the individual begins to need care/support.
  • Finally social isolation creeps up and makes everything feel risky.

I want to concentrate on 3 points; what is risk, the misconceptions around dementia and the idea that because the person’s ability to change & learn has gone it is important that we ensure the world changes for them.

What is Risk?

When I talk about risk in the context of dementia I don’t mean parachuting out of a plane, or scaling Ben Nevis. Risk is really about encouraging and supporting autonomy, it is also sadly coming to terms with the fact this is a palliative disease and will kill the individual. The temptation is to wrap them in cotton wool when in fact that is the worst thing you can do for someone’s mental agility. Let us go out into the world, to make choices, to meet people, to taste new things, to remember old adventures, to re-capture dreams and to enjoy new experiences.

Misconceptions with Dementia

There are so many misconceptions when it comes to dementia but in relation to risk, it is often that they no longer enjoy the things they used to do and can no longer do those things they enjoyed. The difficulty here is that what starts off as untrue becomes true if a person sits isolated at home.

We normally do hobbies, activities, actions with an end result in mind and feel satisfied with that finished result (whether that is washing up, climbing a mountain or pottery classes). When someone has dementia our mindset (the person without cognitive decline) needs to shift, we have to recognise that the end result becomes irrelevant!

The pleasure comes from the doing, from the action taken with others. If you start to think like that then washing up is no longer about clean, dry plates but laughter and encouragement in shared action, walking is no longer about arriving or following a path but the pleasure of walking (whether forwards, sideways, to the shops or on the moors), when talking to strangers or new friends it is no longer about making sense or completing a conversation the act of communicating/connecting becomes the pleasure and no one cares that repetition or nonsense was most of the result.

Mindfulness often talks about the journey, not the arrival, being mindful of the moment not the future and that is exactly what we need to do when living and doing with someone living with cognitive impairment. Then it becomes all about taking risks and not minding the results, letting someone wash up and smash a plate, letting someone meet a friend and talk nonsense, letting someone choose what they want and where to go and enjoying the doing despite an often unusual end.

I should add that doesn’t mean allowing someone who has an advanced disease to make choices that place them at risk – allowing them to run into a road or go off alone with no recognition of time or place. Rather it is trying to change the world they live in to enable safe choice, encouraging that choice and changing our mindset to live in the moment and worry not about the outcome.

My thoughts on the subject

I believe that every adult whether you have a disability or not should be treated as an individual given the chance to do what they find brings happiness and for those with dementia who can no longer learn new things or remember simple tasks, this means us changing not them. Positive choice! Positive Risk!

If you would like to discuss this further, please phone me on 01626 774 799 or email [email protected].

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
― Lao Tzu

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