As we age, we face a variety of health problems, but one of the most devastating age-related diseases, dementia, robs us of our cognitive skills and the cherished memories that make us who we are. Seniors suffering dementia are gradually cut off from their normal lives. Their families and loved ones become strangers, and their ability to perform everyday tasks dwindles. Fortunately, over the last decade, technology has joined in the fight against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by providing innovative tools that help seniors exercise their mental skills, and retain cognitive function longer.
Assistive Technology for Dementia: What’s Available Now?
Tactile memory games are standard therapy for dementia patients in assisted living and other care settings. Puzzles with large wooden pieces, memory flash cards and memory boxes containing objects with personal meaning can encourage memory recall without frustrating the patient. Today, computers and the Internet provide early intervention opportunities for those whose dementia is not yet advanced. Online memory training games give those still living at home an opportunity to work on their skills independently, and the range of programs developed specifically for seniors grows every day. Even the physical construction of today’s devices is conducive to senior use. The latest addition to the iPad family isn’t just lightweight and portable; it boasts simple and intuitive touch-based operation ideal for elderly users. With a little help from caregivers, seniors can take advantage of online resources, and access digital photos, videos and music files that jog their memories.
A Brighter Future for Dementia Patients
Products to be released in the near future hold amazing promise for those with dementia. Intelligent assistive systems like the MemeXerciser help smooth over memory lapses by recording portions of a patient’s life and playing them back when the event is forgotten. To use the device, the person with memory loss wears a small camera that takes hundreds of pictures during a selected event such as a party or holiday gathering. A complex algorithm determines which pictures are more important, but a caregiver or family member can make the final decision. A recorded voice snippet can be added to fill in details. People who suffer from aphasia, the inability to recall words and names, may benefit from the yet unreleased Marco Polo system, which offers users relevant words and phrases based on their location. Other forthcoming technologies include robotic companions to help provide physical assistance with transferring or bathing and even cognitive stimulation. While nothing can replace human interaction, these new devices will supply caregivers with new and effective ways to delay the effects of dementia, and help seniors live fuller, happier lives.