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Exploring Innovative Technologies for Dementia Care in 2024

Healthcare professional using advanced digital interface showcasing Innovative Technologies for Dementia Care.

Dementia refers to a group of neurodegenerative conditions that impact one or more areas of the brain involved in performing vital cognitive functions that include speech, movement, memory, behavior, or others. These conditions are mostly progressive, worsening over time, and significantly impairing one’s ability to perform normal activities of daily living. Consequently, such people require constant supervision and support around the globe, especially in their advanced states.

With more than fifty million people diagnosed with dementia globally, this figure is expected to double by 2030, and triple by 2050. The costs of managing dementia patients are also high, estimated at $32k every year per individual. Besides the economic costs, the impacts of caring for a loved one with dementia on the health and well-being of family members are significant. The impact of dementia on the independence of the patient and their quality of life can be enormous.

Since experts are yet to zero in on the exact cause of dementia or devise any specific curative treatment, any option that improves the conditions of patients, enhances their quality of life, and alleviates the burden on caregivers is highly welcome. In this regard, technology is one of the most promising allies to help improve care for dementia patients.

technology and old person

Many of these technologies are already making inroads in dementia care, and the coming years will likely see some significant breakthroughs.

Here are some of the most innovative technologies for dementia care that have the potential to ease the burden of dementia caregivers as well as patients.

Virtual Reality

VR is one of the most innovative technologies of recent days and is finding particularly wide applications in dementia care. This technology provides simulated versions of real-life events, environments, or objects, permitting people to interact with them like in real life. More importantly, these technologies provide high immersion levels and fidelity, updating the environment in real time depending on the spatial orientation of the user and their actions in the virtual environment, providing a subjecting feeling of being physically present in the environment. VR technologies have three profound applications in dementia care: early diagnosis of dementia, training of dementia care providers, and reminiscence therapy for patients.

Virtual Reality

Signs of dementia are often subtle in the earliest stages of the disease, late diagnosis is a frequent occurrence and a major hindrance to effective interventions. With virtual therapy, patients perform normal activities of daily living in a virtual environment while a therapist observes and collects vital information. Such tasks allow clinicians to collect vital information and evaluate the patient’s cognitive abilities in various areas, including calculation, speech, memory, movements, and behavior. This may provide important insights into the patient’s capability to undertake such activities, providing vital clues on disease presence long before it significantly impairs patients.

Training for dementia care is often lacking in some aspects, and caregivers often view patients as stubborn or frustrating. However, this could be due to a limited understanding of the exact experiences of the patients, and the extent of impairments such patients have to live with. With virtual reality, caregivers have a chance to perform normal activities of daily living in a virtual environment with some of their senses impaired. This way, they have a chance to experience first-hand what such patients go through, allowing for the development of empathy and a deeper understanding of patient struggles.

Lastly, reminiscent therapy is a crucial emerging therapy approach in supporting dementia patients. Patients have a chance to visit virtual environments, triggering their sensory stimuli and potentially stimulating their memories about such environments. In one groundbreaking study, researchers at Kent University had patients visit different virtual environments twice. The results were encouraging in that the patients started conversations about the environments, and some showed tendencies to repeatedly visit particular environments over time. This way, the researchers triggered the patients to reminisce about these environments and kick-start conversations that revealed important aspects of their lives before disease onset. This also provides caregivers with valuable information to tailor patient environments.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a maturing technology that envisions all objects interconnected and connected to the Internet, transforming the physical environment into a vast ocean of data points capable of sending vital information about themselves and their other connected environments in real time. With this technology, thousands or even hundreds of sensors may be implanted to allow for close and remote monitoring of the patients and their environment.

GPS monitoring devices and tags may allow for continued independent living in the home by transforming such environments into smart homes. For example, fitting information-transmitting tags into ordinary accessories, including clothes, tags, and other personal items, would allow for continuous monitoring of the patient’s location. This can prove life-saving because dementia patients often exhibit wandering behavior, and may get lost or move into unsafe areas. Such devices may also be programmed to send alert messages when such persons leave the home.

GPS monitoring devices

Placing such tags in strategic places like the kitchen, bathroom, fridge, and drug containers can collect and send vital information on the patients’ daily living patterns. For example, loved ones could know whether the patient has woken up, taken breakfast, and taken their medicine. Over time, machine learning systems could learn patient patterns from this information, and raise alerts when significant deviations show up to allow for a review of potential issues with the patient.

Robotics

For a long time, robotics had applications in manufacturing, retail, and other highly specialized sectors of the economy. However, recent developments have proved that these technologies can be valuable interventions in the healthcare industry, especially in improving the quality of life for people with dementia and supporting independent living. These include robots that perform various activities of daily living, provide reminders for daily activities, and play games with patients. Researchers have developed and trialled both pet and humanoid robots to varying extends. Humanoid robots have human-body-mimicking features, while pet robots mimic the behavior of pets. They can provide companionship, support patients with daily activities, and support the provision of telehealth for such persons.

humanoid robots

Artificial Intelligence

One of the most rapidly developing technologies, artificial intelligence processes information and performs functions that would ordinarily require human reasoning and intelligence to perform. Such technology may provide more sensitive and accurate analysis than humans and is being increasingly deployed for highly demanding tasks such as diagnosis.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has a major role to play in the early diagnosis of dementia, given the often subtle signs that human eyes can easily miss. Researchers may deploy artificial intelligence to monitor and detect signs of possible dementia onset and trigger the deployment of remedial measures. Within homes, artificial intelligence may collect and process crucial information about patient health, looking for signs that could point to infections or worsening scenarios that require urgent human intervention.

Conclusion

No single technology can replace personal and authentic human management and supervision of people with dementia. However, technologies can play an increasingly vital supportive role in improving the precision of diagnosis, supporting independent living, increasing resource efficiency, and alleviating the burden on caregivers. Although most of these technologies are still in their nascent stages, there is significant evidence that continued developments and refinements will allow their adoption to support people with dementia and improve their quality of life.

References

Appel, L., Ali, S., Narag, T., Mozeson, K., Pasat, Z., Orchanian-Cheff, A., & Campos, J. L. (2021). Virtual reality to promote wellbeing in persons with dementia: A scoping review. Journal of rehabilitation and assistive technologies engineering8, 20556683211053952. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/20556683211053952

Wagner, E. &Borycki E. (2022)The Use of Robotics in Dementia Care: An Ethical Perspective. Stud Health Technol Inform. 289:362-366. doi: 10.3233/SHTI210934. PMID: 35062167.

Sheikhtaheri, A., & Sabermahani, F. (2022). Applications and Outcomes of Internet of Things for Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia: A Scoping Review. BioMed research international2022, 6274185. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2022/6274185//////

Bucholc, M., James, C., Al Khleifat, A., Badhwar, A., Clarke, N., Dehsarvi, A., Madan, C. R., Marzi, S. J., Shand, C., Schilder, B. M., Tamburin, S., Tantiangco, H. M., Lourida, I., Llewellyn, D. J., & Ranson, J. M. (2023). Artificial Intelligence for Dementia Research Methods Optimization. ArXiv, arXiv:2303.01949v1.

University of Kent. (2019, May 9). VR can improve quality of life for people with dementia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 1, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190509080035.htm

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Picture of Cherie Voise

Cherie Voise

Cherie Voise, inspired by personal experiences and driven by her role as an advocate, founded Voise Foundation to improve the lives of those with dementia. As the foundation's key content creator and blog author, she draws on her deep understanding of the disease, advocating for respect, dignity, and creative therapy avenues such as VST Music© and other programs. Cherie's heartfelt writings, fueled by empathy, resonate with readers, offering insight and stirring action. Become a part of this journey and together with Cherie, let's make a meaningful impact in the world of dementia care.