Is Telehealth a Digital Solution for Dementia Care?
Using telehealth services for dementia care is just as effective as traditional face-to-face home visits, and maybe a more affordable alternative for older adults, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The study found that using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone to videoconference with a healthcare provider also saves travel time and benefits people in rural and remote areas.
Dementia is a broad term for progressive diseases and conditions that destroy a person’s memory, thinking, and other cognitive skills. While the causes of dementia among older adults vary, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the World Health Organization, about 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.
Dementia affects a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, such as personal grooming, paying bills, and preparing meals. So, people who have a progressive form of dementia will eventually need help with activities of daily living.
Eligibility Requirements for the Study
To be eligible for the study, researchers wanted older adults who had mild to moderate dementia and were experiencing apathy, restlessness, anxiety, sleep disturbance overnight, and other dementia-related behaviors.
Eligible participants also needed a family or friend to help with daily living activities. Besides agreeing to participate in the study, the caregivers must have been experiencing challenges in providing care or coping with the older adult’s dementia symptoms.
Based on the eligibility requirements, the research group recruited 63 people with dementia and their caregivers. The participants were randomly selected to receive either home visits or telehealth services of the same intervention program. An occupational therapist made two initial visits to people who were chosen to receive telehealth services.
The Study’s Findings
The study found that the amount of time the therapist spent delivering the intervention was similar in both groups, although it was slightly higher for people receiving visits at home. However, videoconferencing with patients reduced the travel time for the therapist.
Overall, participants were satisfied with the program, and those receiving therapy at home were somewhat more favorable of the program. Also, both groups reported significant improvements in the caregivers’ perception of the challenges of caring for people with dementia.
The study results suggest that telehealth makes intervention more accessible to older adults. The study also shows that it is possible to use videoconferencing to assess, collaborate, problem-solve, and personalize strategies with people who have dementia and their caregivers.
Since 70 percent of people with dementia live in their own homes, giving caregivers coping strategies and finding ways to delay the functional decline caused by dementia is a priority, says Kate Laver, the study’s lead researcher and an associate professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.
Laver said giving families evidence-based information and skills can improve the quality of life and well-being for people with dementia.