Can New Technology Help Alzheimer’s Patients?

Can New Technology Help Alzheimer’s Patients?

Posted on September 10, 2013 by ECR Louisville in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiver Education

Technology is absolutely everywhere. Years ago, you had to use a pay phone when you needed to make a call. Now, the idea of going more than a few hours without your cell phone is simply unimaginable. With the rising popularity of smart phones, tablets, mp3 players, computer programs, and all the rest, it is no wonder that technology is impacting our daily lives in such an undeniable way. However, technology could potentially do far more than entertain us. Researchers are wondering if technology could help Alzheimer’s patients deal with the disease.

What is Alzheimer’s disease? It is a degenerative brain disease that is often linked to dementia. This disease has many symptoms that worsen over time, including memory loss, difficulty processing and retaining information, and decreased mobility. As the disease progresses, patients have less independence and become reliant on others to do basic tasks, like eating or personal grooming. Alzheimer’s disease can also affect behaviours, mood and personality. It is currently estimated to affect the lives of 36 million people worldwide, and sadly, there is no cure. This is why improving the quality of life – and the independence – of patients is especially important.

Some researchers are beginning to focus specifically on how technology could help Alzheimer’s patients maintain independence for longer periods of time. This not only would improve the quality of life for patients dealing with the disease, but it would also put less of a strain on the healthcare system. When it comes to using technology to help patients, there are a number of technological ideas that are being considered and explored. Researchers believe that these ideas, if implemented correctly, could dramatically change the lives of Alzheimer’s patients.

Some of these ideas include interactive computers and reminder systems that would aim to provide instructions, information, and daily reminders to perform certain tasks – like taking out the garbage, eating lunch, or even scheduling an appointment. The tasks could be input by a relative or caregiver or by the patient themselves, depending on the progression of the disease. Other ways that technology may be able to help Alzheimer’s patients relates to their safety and well being. Monitoring systems could be used to send an alarm to a family member if a patient was ever in trouble. That could mean taking a fall, missing a meal, not taking medication that they need to, or any other problems.

In addition, researchers believe that interactive games or online websites viewed on the computer or on a tablet, could help stimulate the brain. There have been links between social interaction and brain exercises, and slowing down the symptoms of the disease. By using technology to interact with others and to challenge the brain, more Alzheimer’s patients could be able to slow down the progression of the disease. It is important to note that not all of this technology is currently available, but much of it is. Researchers are doing everything they can to fully develop these technological ideas and get it out to Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

There are both positive and negative implications to integrating technology so heavily into the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Some of the major concerns are that by attempting to provide more independence, patients may feel overwhelmed and over monitored. Many of the technological ideas involve alerting a family member or caregiver when something doesn’t happen, and so on. While this is great because it ensures that nothing is being neglected, it also means that there is a serious lack of privacy. Some patients may not want to or be unwilling to give away so much freedom. Essentially, patients may feel that all of this useful technology is an intrusion or an inconvenience to their lives.

Another problem related to technology and Alzheimer’s disease patients, has to deal with family members. This added technology would require them to have a much more hands on role. Whether that involves teaching their loved one how to use the technology, or monitoring them as necessary, it requires a little more effort. While that may not be an issue for many caregivers, it could cause problems for others. There is also the question of what other problems may arise from using this technology. The reality is that no one will really know what the full impact of technology and Alzheimer’s patients until after it is implemented.

While there are some concerns about using technology to help Alzheimer’s patients, the benefits largely seem to outweigh any negatives. Researchers believe that technology could provide one key thing to Alzheimer’s patients: hope. Using technology in the home can provide hope to patients. Why? It allows them to have more independence and a better quality of life. Rather than be forced to live in a care facility or with a family member, patients may be able to maintain an independent lifestyle for much longer.

Not only can technology improve the quality of life for patients, but it may also contribute to Alzheimer’s research. The thought is that computers may be able to take note of changes in memory or behaviour as they happen. For instance, if a patient starts forgetting certain things more often or takes longer to answer a question on an interactive program than usual – it may signal changes in cognitive behaviours. What could this mean for Alzheimer’s research? Well, researchers would be able to closely monitor the symptoms as they develop with each patient through the use of this technology. This could provide a lot of useful data for research and patient studies. This may be able to provide more factual and thorough information than many other studies have been able to provide thus far. So, not only can technology in the home benefit Alzheimer’s patients, but it can also improve the quality of data and research.

Technology is a fantastic tool – and it just may be able to help Alzheimer’s patients. There are many ways that technology can impact the lives of patients, including increased independence and closer monitoring. In fact, many researchers believe that using technology can make a huge difference in the life of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as the quality of Alzheimer’s research that is available. While there is still a ways to go before this technology is properly introduced, it has the potential to impact many lives.

About the Author
   Dr. David Tal has more than twenty years of clinical experience. He strongly believes that technology can improve the life of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss patients. His participation at the Age Matters Clinic allows him to share his knowledge with patients and their families.