What can be done once a dementia diagnosis is in place? For some physicians, the answer has been “very little” –not long ago, this was a fair response. However, advancements in caring for dementia patients, specifically via new technology and assistive platforms, challenge that perspective. Much can be done now, but more importantly, these advances lay the groundwork for even greater progress.
Ongoing assessment/tracking, paired with innovative interventions can, at the very least, improve the quality of life caring for dementia patients, and for their families. Breakthrough home care assistive technologies designed for caring for dementia patients are currently augmenting outcomes of both recipients and givers of care. Many technologies for people with dementia and their informal carers are still in an early development stage: in a recent JMIR Aging article, Technology-Assisted Home Care for People With Dementia and Their Relatives: Scoping Review, the authors undertook a scoping review to provide a comprehensive overview of current literature, examining the diversity of assistive technologies and the methods of assessment. They found:
“It is difficult, especially for profit-oriented companies, to scientifically test the effectiveness of their developed technologies due to potential conflicts of interest.”
Successful technology arrangements were often characterized by pragmatic adaptation and combination of new with old equipment by caregivers or the people with dementia themselves.
“From an initial 5328 records, we included 175 studies. We identified a variety of technology types including computers, telephones, smartphones, televisions, gaming consoles, monitoring devices, ambient assisted living, and robots. Assistive technologies were most commonly used by people with dementia (77/175, 44.0%), followed by relatives (68/175, 38.9%), and both target groups (30/175, 17.1%). Their most frequent goals were to enable or improve care, provide therapy, or positively influence symptoms of people with dementia (eg, disorientation). The greatest proportions of studies were case studies and case series (72/175, 41.1%) and randomized controlled trials (44/175, 25.1%). The majority of studies reported small sample sizes of between 1 and 50 participants (122/175, 69.7%). Furthermore, most of the studies analyzed the effectiveness (85/233, 36.5%) of the technology, while others targeted feasibility or usability or were explorative.
“[new technologies] have the potential to ensure, improve, and facilitate home care and thereby enhance the health of the people caring or being cared for. The number and diversity of technologies and research have continuously increased over the past few decades. As a result, the research field has become complex.”
So much more is involved in caring for dementia patients than assistive tech and tools to lighten daily burdens. “That said, it is encouraging to know that the stress of unfamiliar situations and difficult to overcome challenges can be made a bit more manageable through [assistive technologies] . “
This review demonstrated the variety of technologies that support people with dementia and their relatives in the home care setting. Whereas this diversity provides the opportunity for needs-oriented technical solutions that fit individual care arrangements, it complicates the choice of the right technology. Therefore, research on the users’ informational needs is required. Moreover, there is a need for larger studies on the technologies’ effectiveness that could contribute to a higher acceptance and thus to a transition of technologies from research into the daily lives of people with dementia and their relatives.