Gadgets that help people cope with dementia

September is World Alzheimer Month and The Echo, in partnership with the HSE’s ‘Dementia: Understand Together’ campaign, is running a 4-part series on it. This article is by Emma O’Brien, Occupational Therapist & Clinical Lead, HSE’s Memory Technology Resource Rooms
Gadgets that help people cope with dementia

For many people with dementia, technology has been a lifeline. Picture: Stock

IT’S hard to believe that we’re a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic. While its grip is slowly loosening, it continues to have a significant impact on our lives.

Thankfully, technology has offered us ways to stay in touch, when so many of our usual routines have changed. Virtual and online communication methods have become the norm and will no doubt continue to play a role in our lives. 

For many people with dementia, technology has been a lifeline in maintaining a level of social connection so important for health and well-being.

To showcase the advances being made, and how they can help, the HSE has Memory Technology Resource Rooms (MTRRs) in almost every county to support people with memory difficulties, including people with dementia and their families.

The MTRRs often have a homely feel and feature a wide variety of low- and high-tech equipment that can help overcome common problems encountered as a result of memory loss or cognitive impairment. These include orientation clocks with the day, date and time; easy-to-use technologies such as TV remote controls, one-button radios, and picture phones; and prompts and safety technologies such as medication reminders and GPS devices.

Visitors to the MTRRs have the opportunity to speak to an expert occupational therapist about the challenges they may be experiencing. They can gain advice on how best to enjoy activities, stay safe and maintain independence, see what pieces of equipment might best suit and be able to see how they work.

Smart Homes

Advances in technology are also now evident in many homes, thanks to voice-activated personal assistants. These can be a great support for people with dementia, for example, in asking what day it is or to play a favourite song. They are also great to add reminders about events and appointments, and prompts about medications.

Virtual assistants can also make staying in contact easier by simply asking the device to call a loved one or to answer an incoming video call.

Smart homes offer other benefits:

  • The ability to control lighting and heating remotely
  • Family members can check in via an app
  • Daily games and skills’ challenges can stimulate the brain with different questions
  • The virtual assistant can add items to a shopping list

Smartphones

Smartphones too can be a great support for people. Unfortunately, as dementia progresses, they can become challenging to use. However, there are some steps you can take to make things simpler:

  • Increase the size of text and icons
  • Change the background to a strong contrasting colour to support visibility
  • Delete or conceal apps no longer in use
  • For some people, making a call can become challenging. Easy-to-use phones can be purchased, but making some changes to contacts can also make all the difference. Here’s how to do it:
  • Pare back the phone book to who the person stays in contact with most
  • Move the most-used numbers into a favourite section in contacts
  • Incorporate images as part of contacts to make numbers easier to recognise
  • For some android smartphones, a contact may be added to the home screen. This is called a widget. Simply pressing the person’s image on the home screen will immediately call them - no need to go through the phone book.

Smart Apps

There is a wide range of supportive apps that can be accessed on a smartphone or tablet computer to use for reminders, for pleasure, for reminiscence, for stimulation and for brain challenges - for example:

  • Hello Brain Health - an app available in the Apple App Store with daily ‘Brain Buff’ challenges to help keep the brain fit and healthy
  • Irish Film Institute (IFI) player - an app featuring a collection of Irish cultural, social and historical film, as well as TV ads from times gone by. It can be a reminiscence experience for a person with dementia to look back on familiar footage
  • Luminosity - a brain-training app that focuses on attention, memory and problem-solving
  • Jigsaw puzzles - there are apps where you can select an image and desired difficulty level

Of course, while technology has many benefits, not all is appropriate or helpful. It is important the needs of each person with dementia are assessed to identify what technologies may be most appropriate or beneficial for them. If you would like information and advice, reach out to the expert occupational therapist in your local Memory Technology Resource Room.

  • The Dementia: Understand Together campaign is led by the HSE in partnership with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Age Friendly Ireland, Age and Opportunity, and the Dementia Services Information and Development Centre. It aims to create communities that actively embrace and include those living with dementia and their families. For more on HSE Memory Technology Resource Rooms, including the services in St. Finbarr’s Hospital, Douglas Road, Cork (tel. 021 492 3194) and the Mallow Primary Healthcare building, Mallow, Co. Cork (tel. 022 58700/086 787 1818), along with a video showcasing what’s on offer, visit www.understandtogether.ie/mtrr. Alternatively, contact The Alzheimer Society of Ireland Helpline for support on Freefone 1800 341 341 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm).

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