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The yearly Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (alz.org) has now been published for 2020 by The Alzheimer’s Association. By the year 2040 more than twice as many baby boomers will have Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 2015; 10.3 million as compared to 4.7 million respectively. Medicare costs for boomers with Alzheimer’s are projected to increase to 24 percent of Medicare spending by 2040. While research continues to find ways to stave off the disease and find pathways to meaningful treatments, technology has become instrumental in providing some respite to the already existing crisis for the care of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia patients.
There are currently many nursing homes with memory support floors and secure units. While nothing will replace skilled nursing care essential for end stages of dementia, technology will provide a broader array of options for those adults attempting to adopt lifestyle programs designed to slow the development of the disease, especially during its long preclinical phase as they age in place.
Brain fitness games played on handheld devices, or computers can help to preserve cognitive abilities as well as give the user a sense of control and hope in delaying the progression of memory loss. Wearable cameras with facial recognition capabilities can help a person with dementia by providing the name of a person who is approaching them. The artificial intelligence abilities of these wearables can be predictive as to whether or not the senior is having a good or a bad day which is very typical of early-stage cognitive problems. This information will help a person to judge if it is a good day for them to drive a car safely or perform some other potentially hazardous task. Artificial intelligence can also help to identify through video, audio, and sensor technologies those patients who are suffering from depression allowing intervention by caregivers.
People living with dementia are often confused about time and so specifically designed clocks are available to ease the anxiety associated with this confusion. The clocks are easy to read and make it very clear whether the patient is in a day or night cycle. These clocks also help caregivers set a routine for their loved ones as both the patient and caregiver can agree about the time because of the clock which both people acknowledge to be the correct time.
Telephones that are adapted with preprogrammed and frequently dialed numbers with large buttons (some with the photograph of the person associated with the number) help a person with dementia stay connected to others which is essential to the quality of life in memory care. Video chat applications like FaceTime and Skype further the human connection by displaying the faces of those they are talking to providing a more profound sense of connection. In the deeper state of progression of memory disease, Talking Mats is a popular application designed to let people communicate their feelings by selecting pictures or symbols used as a menu for selection to express their feelings.
Electrical appliance monitoring is explicitly designed for caregivers who monitor their loved one remotely and will alert them if commonly used appliances have not been turned on or off. While GPS (global positioning system) location and tracking devices can help find a person with dementia who may wander away from home or become lost in a car.
In the home, care robots can relieve a caregiver of some of the more redundant tasks needed to care for their loved one adequately. While these robots cannot replace the human touch, general housework (think Roomba and other autonomous vacuums), personal home assistant controls for thermostats and lighting, as well as medication alerts can help the adult with dementia navigate day to day life without constant human intervention. Wearable technology that monitors vital medical signs can alert a caregiver or medical professional if the patient is outside of the boundaries of safe, vital norms. All of these home-based technologies allow a person in the earlier stages of dementia to stay at home and still be safe.
In-home cameras can also provide great intelligence to ensure your loved one is having a successful day. Having a camera focused on a medication station in the kitchen and another in the bedroom, bathroom, and main room where they spend much of their time will allow monitoring of their movement and alert the remote monitor if there has been no movement detected for a set period or provide a visual if the person is in distress.
Prerecorded “reminder messages” can be stationed in the patient’s home and then played back out loud at the appropriate time. These messages can help remind a patient to take their medication at the correct time or tell them of a personal activity that is scheduled. Other reminder messages may include a reminder to close the door or go back to bed if the dementia patient is likely to wander off or become disoriented.
Family caregivers are going to have increasing responsibilities to tend to loved ones in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Technology options at their disposal will allow them to remotely monitor and alert appropriate medical personnel in the event of significant changes in behavior. Artificial intelligence, robots and not yet imagined technologies will provide oversight and connection when there are not enough caregivers to go around. Although nothing will replace a positive human relationship (as far as we know now) for dementia care, the sheer numbers of people living with dementia are already stressing a compromised health care system and make technology the best hope for handling the number of patients projected to suffer from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
It is essential to think differently about the future of your care as you age. Older models that you may have previously thought would be available to you may not be affordable or workable solutions. The likelihood is that much of your care will come from a combination of family members, friends, and professional medical oversight employing technology for monitoring as well as your in-home systems allowing you to care for yourself.
Are your medical and legal directives in place in the event you develop dementia? Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning. If you have questions or would like to discuss your estate planning situation, please contact our Heber Springs, Arkansas office at 501-365-3934.