Updated: Jul 30, 2021
How is our world of gadgets and gizmos evolving to reshape the health industry and reimagine the ways in which we approach dementia care?
As the Australian population ages, conditions such as dementia are estimated to increase dramatically. Currently, around 472,000 Australians live with the condition. If this pattern continues, we can expect to see this number increase to over a million individuals by 2058 .
So what is dementia?
Dementia is a neurological syndrome characterised by chronic and progressive cognitive impairments which can affect memory, language, orientation and judgement. The many different subtypes of dementia range from Alzheimer’s disease to vascular dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions .
Though there are currently no cures for dementia, it does not mean hope is lost. Scientists are gradually making breakthroughs by using animal models to explore how treatments such as medications and even gene therapy  may be able to reverse damage and improve cognition.
But how can we help those already living with dementia? Whilst there are treatments that can alleviate symptoms, there are also many home or lifestyle modifications that can help patients lead more independent and fulfilling lives.
Let’s look at three novel approaches that incorporating the latest technology into dementia care:
1. Cognitive Assistive Technologies
Need another pair of helping hands or another set of watchful eyes?
Assistive technologies are devices that help individuals perform tasks that they struggle with. In recent years, the focus has been on developing intelligent technologies which are able to aid with simple daily tasks, reducing the burden on caregivers and helping people live independently for longer.
An example of this is the COACH system (Cognitive Orthosis for Assisting Activities in the Home) . Currently being trialled for simple tasks like handwashing, it aims to decrease the burden on carers by delivering audio-visual prompts to help individuals with daily activities.
Picture from: Mihailidis, A., Boger, J. N., Craig, T., & Hoey, J. (2008). The COACH prompting system to assist older adults with dementia through handwashing: An efficacy study. BMC Geriatrics, 8(1), 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2318-8-28
Other examples include CareMedia, an activity and behaviour monitor for dementia unit nursing staff to track falls and aggression, and navigational aids such as the Intelligent Mobility Platform and Opportunity Knocks to help with disorientation and getting lost .
2. Computerised Cognitive Training
Picture from: Gamberini, L., Martino, F., Seraglia, B., Spagnolli, A., Fabregat, M., Ibanez, F., . . . Montesa, J. (2009). Eldergames project: An innovative mixed reality table-top solution to preserve cognitive functions in elderly people
Are gamers going to outlive us all? Researchers are examining how digital computer programs can improve cognitive ability. Programs such as Eldergames are specifically designed to improve the cognitive decline of normal aging for elderly players.by having participants interact with digital games through familiar tools and motions . They can even support multiplayer mode for an added social bonus!
Whilst the effectiveness of these tools in improving dementia-associated cognitive decline still needs further research, video games do have added benefits. For individuals with dementia, video games and virtual reality (VR) programs may be able to increase socialisation and improve fitness.
Additionally, VR could be used to train and assess patients’ functional status, whilst commercial gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect can mix exercise with leisure - all while being accessible for people with dementia .
3. The Internet of Things (IoT)
Need a virtual buddy, assistant or maybe even a quick virtual health checkup?
The Internet of Things is the network of objects (or “things”) connected to the internet that are able to collect and transmit data without human interference.
Sounds crazy? Well, some of these technologies are already used in our everyday lives!
Generally speaking, smart speakers like Alexa, smart vacuum cleaners like the Roomba and smart wearables such as the Fitbit all fall into the broad category of IoT devices.
For individuals with dementia who want to stay independent, IoT technologies acting autonomously could make a huge impact in improving quality of life. Many assistive devices are already part of the IoT, but on a larger scale, patients might even benefit from smart homes or robotic nursing staff in the future. IoT may also be able to streamline the way we deliver healthcare for these patients. By collecting data on heart rate, blood pressure and other vitals through monitors and sensors, medical teams can remotely monitor their patients, improving response time, and keeping the cost of patient care low .
Picture from: Oskouei, R. J., MousaviLou, Z., Bakhtiari, Z., & Jalbani, K. B. (2020). IoT-Based Healthcare Support System for Alzheimer’s Patients. Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing, 2020, 8822598. doi:10.1155/2020/8822598
So will these new technologies really be the future of dementia care?
Currently, many of these devices and systems still face unique issues with cost, accessibility and administration. Adapting these technologies to each individual, their lifestyle and habits can also be difficult to do without support and motivation.
But wear to from here? Well, only time will tell…
 Dementia Australia. (2021). Dementia Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.dementia.org.au/statistics
 World Health Organisation. (2020) Dementia. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia
 Combs, B., Kneynsberg, A., & Kanaan, N. M. (2016). Gene Therapy Models of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias. Methods Mol Biol, 1382, 339-366. doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-3271-9_25
 Mihailidis, A., Boger, J. N., Craig, T., & Hoey, J. (2008). The COACH prompting system to assist older adults with dementia through handwashing: An efficacy study. BMC Geriatrics, 8(1), 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2318-8-28
 Bharucha, A. J., Anand, V., Forlizzi, J., Dew, M. A., Reynolds, C. F., 3rd, Stevens, S., & Wactlar, H. (2009). Intelligent assistive technology applications to dementia care: current capabilities, limitations, and future challenges. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, 17(2), 88-104. doi:10.1097/JGP.0b013e318187dde5
 Gamberini, L., Martino, F., Seraglia, B., Spagnolli, A., Fabregat, M., Ibanez, F., . . . Montesa, J. (2009). Eldergames project: An innovative mixed reality table-top solution to preserve cognitive functions in elderly people.
 Astell, A. J., Bouranis, N., Hoey, J., Lindauer, A., Mihailidis, A., Nugent, C., & Robillard, J. M. (2019). Technology and Dementia: The Future is Now. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 47(3), 131-139. doi:10.1159/000497800
 Oskouei, R. J., MousaviLou, Z., Bakhtiari, Z., & Jalbani, K. B. (2020). IoT-Based Healthcare Support System for Alzheimer’s Patients. Wireless Communications and Mobile Computing, 2020, 8822598. doi:10.1155/2020/8822598