Senior Age Technology
People in the later stages of dementia often have problems communicating their thoughts, needs, and feelings. The inability to tell someone that they are in pain, have trouble sleeping, or have any other problems can cause people with dementia to become frustrated, and possibly resist help from caregivers.
Not only will the person with dementia resist help from caregivers, but may see caregivers as a threat, especially when caregivers get physically close to them. This “care-resistant behavior” makes it difficult for caregivers to help with oral care, grooming, dressing, and other personal care.
To make caregiving activities easier, researchers from the University of Alabama (UA) and Florida International University (FIU) are developing technology that makes communication easier for people with dementia.
UA and FIU were awarded $1.6 million from the National Institute on Aging for a five-year project to design touch-screen technology for people with dementia. The touch-screen tablets are similar to the type of sensory and communication boards used by students with autism.
Nicole Ruggiano, associate professor in the UA School of Social Work, said the tablets will be customized with pictures of all the things that the person with dementia likes, such as their favorite foods and favorite clothes.
So, when the person with dementia has trouble communicating or becomes confused, caregivers can use the tablets to engage with the person, said Ruggiano, who has been working with families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias since 2016.
Technology In Development To Help Older Adults And Caregivers
Tech companies and researchers are designing existing technology to fit the needs of older adults, a population expected to see exponential growth in the next two decades.
As the number of people 65 years old and older increases, the number of adults with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to climb from 5.8 million today to 13.8 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
What’s more, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is projected to skyrocket from an estimated $203 billion to $1.2 trillion by 2050, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.
The aging population and increasing numbers of Alzheimer’s disease patients mean that families must be prepared for the economic and psychological challenges of caregiving. And, researchers, like Ruggiano and her colleagues, are already anticipating these challenges.
For example, Ruggiano and Dr. Ellen Brown, associate professor of nursing at FIU, developed CareHeroes, a multifunctional app that helps to improve communication between doctors providing dementia care and caregivers. Ruggiano said the app’s purpose is to decrease caregiver burden and symptoms of depression, which are often due to the stress of caregiving.
Ruggiano and Brown were awarded $300,000 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2018 to test the app with more than 60 participants in sites in Alabama and Florida. Ruggiano’s next project is to create a database for caregivers that provide resource information for caregivers, such as where to buy the least expensive medical and personal supplies for people with dementia.
Ruggiano and her colleagues were awarded a $150,000 grant from The National Science Foundation to develop the resource database for caregivers.
Indiana Project Aims to Support Caregivers and People With Dementia
Researchers at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine is expanding community support for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their caregivers. The school’s Center for Health Innovation and Implementation Science launched the Alzheimer’s Disease Programs Initiative (ADPI) in 34 Indiana counties.
The goal of the three-year project is to build on existing home and community-based social supports to help people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) remain independent, said Dr. Steven R. Counsell, a professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine and medical director for the Division of Aging in the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
The collaborative program will involve 1,000 people who are eligible to be in a nursing home, but live in the community with assistance from Medicaid in-home support and services. The people receiving care during the project are those with ADRD who live alone or are aging and have intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down’s syndrome.
According to project organizers, 17 percent of Indiana residents will be over 65 years old by the end of 2020. And, more than 110,000 of these adults have ADRD.
In Indiana, the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias live independently which is why researchers involved in the ADPI say there is a great demand for innovative and well-researched community and home-based solutions.
Under the project, community health workers will serve as dementia care coordinator assistants and coach people with ADRD and their caregivers. Also, 500 personal care workers will receive specialized training in caring for people with dementia.
The ADPI is funded by a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Social Service’s Administration for Community Living. Besides the IU School of Medicine, the project will involve numerous agencies and organizations, including the Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, CICOA Aging and In-Home Solutions, Central Indiana’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and four other Indiana AAAs.