Technology benefits the elderly, but can it help those with dementia? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

The buzz is building about technology’s ability to enrich the lives of the elderly, effectively turning back the clock and opening up new possibilities. The statistics back it up, with 67 percent of adults over 65 accessing the news on mobile devices and 77 percent of adults over 65 owning a mobile phone. Anecdotally, I hear it all the time: So many people talk about how their parents or grandparents initially resisted the adoption of technology, but after learning to use iPads and other devices, their lives are transformed.

Still, amidst all of the valid excitement over technology’s positive effects on the aging population, huge gaps and opportunities remain in the space. Much of the technology is dedicated toward the concept of “aging in place,” with the goal of keeping older adults as independent and healthy for as long as possible. These products are aimed at keeping people connected and brain-fit, as well as enhancing wellness and longevity. These are all valid endeavors, and it’s fascinating as every year goes by to see what’s on the horizon.

 

However, in the wake of that well-justified enthusiasm, folks dealing with cognitive decline, and in particular dementia, can be left out of the equation. Arguably, those experiencing cognitive decline have the most to gain from adopting technology of any group. And the good news is that finding ways to help this group through technology isn’t very complicated.

 

The right technology for the right person

It’s important to realize that the dramatic impact we have seen with technology and dementia over the years has not usually come from new and groundbreaking technologies. Instead, it typically comes from repurposing tools already at our fingertips. Many of us have become blasé about new technologies. While our lives are changed through these tools, it happens incrementally, so the novelty and astonishment can wear off. Not so for those living with dementia. Do you know what it’s like for a 93-year-old with mid-stage dementia to see the house she grew up in via Google Earth? Or a grandmother in Iowa watching her granddaughter get married in France via Skype? Or how about a Korean War pilot reliving the experience of flying simply by navigating a joystick with off-the-shelf flight simulation software? The Jetsons weren’t so far off! We have these tools and many more at our disposal every day; it’s just a matter of integrating them into the dementia landscape. Of course, we must account for the cognitive and physical realities of each individual person, but that reality does not change the human desire we all feel to stay connected and to stay relevant.

 

Fortunately, we’ve had hundreds of providers over the years help us with thousands of ideas as to how to change the paradigm and make technology more accessible to the aging. What these valued partners have taught me is that what matters is not technology for its own sake, but searching to find the right technology that is most relevant to that one person. To the geography teacher, it’s putting together a puzzle of the United States; to the priest, it’s hearing the rosary, to the farmer, it’s being immersed in multimedia videos of farming, and to me, it’s hearing my daughter, Perrin, sing! We all have our own quirks and interests, and the communities that do it right are the ones that proactively look for technology solutions that match the needs of each person. It’s a fun, rewarding puzzle to put together.

 

Our journey into technology for the aging population is just beginning. Thanks to the promise of virtual reality, augmented reality, voice activation, holograms and more, the future is bright, and full of endless possibilities. So, if you are part of an organization that works with older adults, keep looking for technology that will keep the folks you serve as healthy and independent as long as possible. It’s without question a noble endeavor. But I guarantee you will be blown away by the outcomes if you also look for ways to benefit the folks that seem like they are the hardest to reach. The smiles you get back will make it worth the effort!