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7 Ways Technology Helps Families through Ageing & Dementia [Updated 2022]

Updated: Sep 8, 2022



In the midst of the real and tough daily challenges of aging, dementia, and taking care of those we love, there is inspiration, laughter, and there are new possibilities emerging all the time.


This article covers 6 real stories and highlights 30+ products, that might help those looking after family and friends. (See interactive collections here)


Jess can’t remember the last time the low-grade nervousness wasn't there. It comes in the quiet moments between meetings or between distractions.

As a Regional Manager of a large company, she is used to solving problems but she can't put her finger on this one. Sometimes it is at the back of her mind - sometimes at the front. But worry - or is it guilt, or fear, about her mum, is always there. She used to get some relief when she knew she’d be able to call in on the way home, but now she has hardly left to start the drive home again and the love, and worry, kick back in.


It's hard to change “worry” without giving it a name. When she finally stops avoiding the discomfort, we sit down together and tip out her thoughts, loading them back in some kind of order. 50% of her fear is that her mum might wander or fall” “20% is guilt that her mum is lonely”, “10% is what if someone takes advantage of her”. The rest is made up of a million, mostly irrational it seems small pieces that seem to take up as much emotion as the rational ones.


There is some relief in finally saying it aloud.


It can seem overwhelming - even helpless waiting for appointments, assessments, referrals, and opinions. In the health system, many of us end up having more conversations about what is no longer possible for ourselves or our loved ones.


Maybe it's time to talk about what is possible. And how technology is allowing people to be safer, do what they love, and stay in their own homes longer.

We don't believe technology is the answer, but when combined with love, time together, and the advice of health professionals, it can bring benefits not otherwise possible.


As there is a range of personal needs and circumstances, always seek the advice of health professionals, and consult those around you best informed to help make your choices. These should not be considered life-saving devices.


This article covers technology that may help seniors and families with:

 

1. Being Closer


“Mum doesn’t hear so well, her memory is fading, and she lives alone. My siblings and I are there as much as we can be. We each have different perspectives on how well she’s doing and what she needs more help with. When we call her, she doesn’t always answer or hear us properly. I miss her, and I worry. She’s always on my mind.”


The good news is, there is a lot of technology available that can make all the difference to more easily connecting and empowering loved ones to overcome barriers. The benefits are many, and across the generations. After all, loneliness is experienced by people of all ages, and the joy of connecting and having a laugh with those we love brings benefits to us all.


Studies indicate that reducing social isolation can have a positive and quantifiable impact on physical health and dementia.


What you can get help with


Making communication easier, such as:

Home phones, mobile phones and home hubs that make it easy to:

  • Hear more clearly via volume and hearing aid compatibility

  • Press buttons with confidence the touch has registered

  • Dial with visual prompts for frequently called numbers, using photos or pictures, and calling for help

  • Benefit from video phones by seeing body language and lip-reading, making conversations easier and bringing increased emotional connection as you both smile, move, and gauge health

  • Call via an emergency button

  • Have Family drop into the room with no action required

  • Start a Video or voice calls activated with just your voice

Tips: Pre-program the numbers and who 'sos' calls in your family, set the volume where you need it, and adjust for hearing aids. Consider phone cases and lanyards for ease of carrying. Call the device while your loved one is out to help create the habit. Leave a laminated page for what to say. ie. To video call, Jane, say "Hey Google, video call Jane". Consider the stage of dementia and specific needs to consider when buying a smartphone.


Top Products to Consider include:



 

2. Being Safer


“My parents are 84. They live together, without help. Mum has dementia, and dad has some medical issues and early stages of dementia himself. They don’t want to leave their home. A few months ago, they went out and didn’t come home.




Over the next hours, we informed the Police, and over the next days, a statewide search kicked off, with a member of the public finding them 500km away. Both were disoriented. They came home with us for a few weeks and insisted on going back home. The technology we have is a godsend. Absolute peace of mind for them and us and combined with visiting home support, it's allowed them to stay in their home.”


Alzheimers.org explains the cognitive reasons why home safety can be compromised, including confusion, loss of balance and memory with using appliances, reduced sensory awareness including vision, hearing, and smell, and the impact of medication.


What you can get help with


The good news is, there are many outstanding, reliable products available, to make living at home safer and easier for seniors, families, and all concerned.


Technology can assist to:

  • Detect movement or lack of movement, for example, to understand behavior, wandering at unusual at unplanned times, or not making it out of bed

  • Remotely open the door for lost keys, or let people you know into the home for health support visits, a cleaner, or a neighbor or family member without keys

  • See who is at the door, and talking with them over the camera speaker

  • Be alerted to security incidents such as visitors in the backyard or driveway

  • Find someone who's wandered or become lost

  • Detect falls and call for help

  • Be alerted for the smoke alarm and carbon monoxide, air quality, and temperature, open windows or doors, or leaking taps

  • Automate lights to reduce falls or make the home cozy, either automatically, remotely, or with a voice command

Tip: In many cases, these are set up in minutes, are wireless, and don't require a tradesperson. Let your family know how to check into the camera and doors, and check for batteries that might need replacing.


Top Products to Consider include:



 

3. Being Well



“My dad had a stroke they think, last year, and since then there's an obvious decline around memory and confusion. The doctor says there are multiple health concerns to monitor. Do we have a clear picture of the situation?



No way. He doesn’t remember how he felt between visits, the symptoms aren’t always present, and he isn’t consistent with his medication. Maybe he’s not drinking enough water, or getting enough oxygen while he sleeps. Maybe his heart plays up just some days.


If I knew what was happening with dad, I reckon it would be easier for all of us, including the doctor. We might call it "too hard", or "old age”, but understanding some of these things might make the world of difference to his comfort, happiness, and preventing future deterioration.


I don't want to feel like I've got a blindfold on, and have to make decisions without information. Not if it's possible to get it."


Studies indicate that active aging is an important factor in remaining well. Also that in people who are aging or living with dementia, multiple health conditions co-exist, increasing risk factors relating to heart, stroke, diabetes, nutrition, weight, respiration, and bone density. 42 percent of Americans report buying technology to monitor health, with 73 percent reporting it positively changed their behaviors. According to the WHO, up to 70 percent of chronic diseases are preventable.


What you can get help with


There has been an extraordinary uptake of digital health technology, over the last few years and during COVID, with a resulting greater impact of, and benefit, health.


Technology can assist with:

  • Capturing, measuring, storing, and sharing with your family or health professional, indicators such as:

    • temperature

    • movement, steps, and activity levels, and gait

    • heart measures including heart rate and ECG/EKG

    • sleep including hours, quality, and potential apnea

    • blood sugar levels

    • breathing and oxygen

    • seizures

  • Setting reminders for medication and to help do what keeps you well, such as time to sleep, eat, or drink water

  • Alerts to family members for incidents such as seizures, falls, or irregularities


Tip: Think about whether the person measuring their health, has a smartphone or not, and if not, there are plenty of products that store the data on the health device or can sync with your phone when you're nearby. If the person can't remember to test themselves, build testing into the routine of carer visits or family, or for example a long battery life watch or sleep mat might be best. Take the data with you to your health professional, to give insight between visits or to help correlate to medication, wellbeing, or behavior changes.

Information on sharing data and trend history is available with each product and can be simple. Though an Apple Watch may not be suitable for everyone due to battery life, an example of how to see heart data history captured is here.


Top Products to Consider include


We've chosen the products easiest for those who might not be comfortable with advanced wearables technologies and frequent charging.



 

4. Being Out


“My mum was recently widowed and moved into a retirement village. She’s never been an enthusiastic driver and was happy to give that up. I’m worried she won’t enjoy this time because she doesn’t go out. She’s had a few health scares, and she’s not confident.




The shops aren’t far away, and getting out would help her enjoy more social interactions, maintain fitness, and be independent.


The definition of healthy aging includes the ability for people to be engaged and involved in the community, both experiencing it, and contributing. Moreover being out and about increases physical and mental health and well-being, and independence, when it can be done safely.


What you can get help with

  • Stability when walking, like a frame with storage, or conversion from a frame to a seat or a wheelchair.

  • Trikes and for seniors, that can be electric, foldable, have a seat back, wide tires, and storage. Pair it with a phone holder or GPS tracker and sos alarm

  • Scooters that are lightweight and foldable

  • Wheelchairs that are easy to use, fold and store

  • General GPS trackers and SOS personal alarms for example for the frame or trike, to get help while out

  • Ridesharing services to collect people to take them to community events, catchups with friends, family occasions, hobbies, volunteering, the library or mall


Top Products to Consider include:





 

5. Being Helped



My aunt likes to be independent, but she's getting older, and her kids live interstate. We wanted to set up some routines and services to help make life enjoyable, and also spread the load.





Together, we've put together a wonderful set of services, like adding to her shopping list, having groceries delivered each week so she just has to pop out for small things, and being picked up Wednesdays to spend the day with friends. A cleaner comes once a week, and library books are delivered. We don't have to worry about her safety as we, and her kids can see who comes to the door when the bell rings.


What you can get help with


Help is available, with supporting products to make it safe and easy, such as:

  • Groceries or local restaurant food can be ordered remotely, or via a voice assistant, and delivered

  • Transport can be ordered via a voice assistant "Call an Uber Assist", or via smartphone or tablet by someone in the home, or remotely by family, including following tracking the person, a doorbell camera, or tracking the vehicle journey, to see when your loved one arrives and leaves

  • Home carers and cleaners can be scheduled, with the ability to use cameras or a video doorbell, to ensure safety and two-way talk, or remote door opening

A range of other services are available on-demand, such as help to walk a dog or maintain the garden, etc. Always make sure to use reputable, and well-reviewed, and rated services, payment is through a platform, and there is no access to the home unless the service provider is verified.


 

6. Being Happy & Engaged


2 pm. I sit down after lunch and check on my little window to the wider world. It’s my way of being connected. I check on the news, follow the activities of my friends and family, and read community updates.




Over the last 12 months, I’ve got a pen pal, learned some Spanish, and read a new book every few weeks. “It’s incredible when you think about it."


See the inspiring stories of Wendy Mitchell, diagnosed with early-stage dementia, who describes technology as 'a lifeline', and Rick Phelps, who says of using the voice assistant Alexa.

The device "has afforded me something that I have lost: Memory. I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. And I can ask it what day it is 20 times a day and I will still get the same correct answer. And since I can no longer read, having books read to me by Alexa is worth its weight in gold to me.”

What you can get help with


  • Be in touch with local and world news, community events, and updates from family and friends via a tablet

  • Ask anything, play a game, get a recipe, do a calculation, find out how something works, watch a video or take a course

  • Set a routine like "Goodnight", that will gently read tomorrow's weather, announce reminders for tomorrow, send a message to someone that you're going to bed now, and a favorite calming song.

  • Take a video call or group call

  • See your schedule, and being able to send and receive messages to be in control of your day, birthdays, appointments

  • Listening to music such as Spotify, or playing audiobooks. Set up a playlist, and print out the commands on the bench to remember.

  • Stands, cases, and accessibility settings can make it easier to hold and see

  • Physical photos, memory books, and digital displays can be a reminder of how much you are loved

  • Relaxation aided through mindfulness or robotic pets

Tip: Print a simple list of commands and laminate it, to help know what to say. Special customised settings for voice assistants can be set to make engaging easier.


Top Products to Consider include:



7. What's Next (a sneak peek at the future)



There are already signs of the future becoming mainstream, as you will see below as many of these are available already. We haven't included them in the above sections, as these technologies will improve in terms of performance, battery life, price, and availability.



In some cases, there may be more comfort required around privacy and acceptance levels before uptake occurs.


Trends include:

  • Simply designed wearable rings and bracelets will effortlessly measure the body's holistic movements, physiological signs, and mood and help us understand, prevent and manage health.

  • Smart clothes, with integrated sensors for heart, activity, sweat, respiration, and geo-location helping with insight, rehab, and chronic disease management such as diabetes.

  • Personalized, friendly home robots with voice assistant and video, such as the newly announced Amazon Astro and like FURio that allow help, assistance, and family to support independence.

  • Advanced camera's and flying drones to monitor homes, perimeters if movement is detected or can be summoned should a fall occur

  • Voice assistants that detect labored breathing, crying, or distress

  • Smart mirrors, today used for exercise, that tomorrow could be integrated to help with guided exercises for physio, posture, rehab, and telehealth through to skin and self-assessments.

The following are available or in trial now:





How we Chose these Products


helloEd is a marketplace for discovering the world's health, home, and assistive technologies, to save people time and help them get back to doing what they love. The marketplace is independent, does not offer products of its own, and continually scans hundreds of sources from across the world, from niche and mainstream providers, to save time and make it easier to get outcomes.


Products are selected based on a range of criteria, such as:

  • Use case and ability to help (across 6 categories ie. communicate and reminders, get help or detect falls, monitor health, home safety, move or work, specialist conditions eg Autism, Parkinson's), grow and delight.

  • Brand (indicating reputation, support, and warranty)

  • Features

  • Availability

  • Research & Approvals (including studies, research, and authority approvals such as FDA, TGA, NDIS, etc)

  • Customer Reviews

  • The technology used (such as reliability, standards, battery life)

  • Fit with other products (compatibility with a wider ecosystem eg. Apple, Android, Amazon, Google, with ease of connectivity between vendors)

  • Channels (such as support from peak association bodies, eg Parkinson's)

  • Specialist factors (requiring closer inspection for specific conditions, and talking with vendors across the world eg. Beats medical, an app that is also a class one medical device)

  • Finally, an overview by our team and specialist advisors

Please note not all products meet all criteria, for example, a voice assistant or smart lock is not a medical device, and emerging products are included for your awareness. We are not in a position to endorse specific products and their fit to personal needs.


Always read the product information, do your own research, and contact the supplier for more information.


Tips to Get Outcomes


Step 1: Talk about what’s important and what you’re hoping to get help with. It may be that they want to stay home and reassure the family that they can check-in if needed. It may be wanting to exercise but being unsure of a condition, or recently out of the hospital. The goal is to want what the technology gives you.


Step 2: Find out what’s possible. Browse products and ideas together and see what might suit you. Discuss it with your family and health professional, for input and help.


Step 3: Buy and set them up to get started. When they arrive, set them up with chargers, and settings. For example, the smoke alarm to alert family, cameras to detect movement outside during the night and alert a family member, the Google or Alexa home hub with the contact details for voice dialing, or a smartwatch to detect falls.


Step 4: Together create new experiences and routines, like family using the new communications devices to call each other each night, brain games or rehab every morning, checking on movement each morning, sharing health updates with family or your health professional, and or starting new conversations over the news, audiobooks or communities you’ve joined.


Any questions, feedback, or stories to share, the helloEd team would love to hear from you to help others and to help improve our service. Contact Us.






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