Finding Smart Solutions Promoting Productive Aging
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. (Alzheimer’s Association, 2017) Dementia not only affects the minds of those diagnosed, but affects the very soul of each individual, as well as the people they love. This impact is not only felt in emotional terms but it also affects the very fabric of our society – psychosocially, economically and even spiritually. The number of persons being diagnosed with dementia is growing at an alarming rate. The amount of money being spent in the fight toward a cure is in the billions. Countless studies are taking place, not only to find a cure or a means to prevent the development of this disease, but to also find a means to improve the overall quality of life for this population (Alzheimer’s Association, 2017). How do we as therapists make any impact toward this deadly disease? How do we make even the smallest difference to these people that face such uncertainty in their lives? The first step in solving any issue is education.
Therapeutic interventions are often provided for persons with Dementia which focus on preventing loss of independence and overall quality of life. Evidenced based treatment strategies are often used in therapy which includes Montessori Therapy, Spaced Retrieval, Validation Therapy, Sensory Therapy and Reminiscence Therapy. These can be used in both a Day Wellness Program that a client may attend during the early course of their disease process (McLaughlin and Lagala, 2012). They can also be used in long term care placements where many individuals eventually find placement. The course of this disease process is often challenging for those individuals living with dementia as well as to their caregivers. Although developments in dementia care have grown greatly over the years, the eventual decline is often heartbreaking and caregivers often feel helpless in knowing how to help their loved one. Therapists also report how challenging this population can be in addressing their needs and constantly working against this inevitable loss (Zarit, 2013).
This appears a very bleak outcome for those individuals confronted with this diagnosis. But what we have found in our studies is that the treatment for those individuals living with Dementia throughout the globe is changing. Many believe that this may directly due to the greying of our society. “By 2050 the global population over the age of 60 will top two billion, and for the first time in history, outnumber the generation under 15.” (McKeough, 2015) This huge global shift must challenge us to come up with innovative solutions to this issue. Some solutions include looking at architectural design and how communities are built. We must improve our use of smart home technologies, and innovative design for equipment that focuses on an aging population and not on a younger population as is the current norm. We must look at things differently (McKeough, 2015) There are many issues that need to be addressed. It may seem overwhelming how to address these issues but many answers are already at our fingertips. The use of varied assistive technology is often seen by many as a logical first step.
Today, the use of technology is a global phenomenon. We use cell phones to find directions to the nearest restaurant. Computers are no longer stationary devices. We carry them. We talk to them. We can’t for a moment be without them. We no longer have to look at maps to find directions – we utilize personal voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa. Technology is no longer a nice adjunct to our lives; it is an integral part of how we live.
For persons living with dementia the use of these technologies can enhance their lives in ways we didn’t know was possible (Peterson and Prasad, 2012). From schedule organizers to auditory reminders these technologies offer meaning to persons with dementia. The use of medication reminders and use of telecare systems can monitor a person while in their own home environment. Use of smart homes technologies allows individuals to stay in their homes for greater periods of time. Assistive technologies do not need to be high tech. Even simple adaptive equipment such as using an adaptive eating utensil can allow individuals to participate in functionally based tasks more independently. The creation of the iPad and other tablet based systems allows a person to continue to communicate with others, listen to music, watch videos and work on cognitive skills development through the use of varied apps. The iPad has a wealth of built in accessibility features that truly focus on the needs of each individual, allowing them to work on the iPad as independently as possible (Pak and Hin, 2014). The exploration of robotics is an emerging technology that is developing robots that provide care, encourage socialization and can actually be-friend their human counter parts (Moyle, Cooke, Jones, Klein, Cook, and Gray C, 2013). Assistive technologies can give hope to both the individual living with Dementia as well as to their caregivers. They can allow these individuals to live in their own homes for longer periods of time. They can work on skill development in cognition and overall physical and visual functioning. Assistive Technologies help to find organization in a disorganized world. The use of assistive technology for persons with dementia can greatly enhance their quality of life overall.
A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
We are aging. It is part of life and for each of us will lead to eventual death but does this road that we all walk upon need to be one of sadness when we are older or instead can we look at this concept of aging as a new beginning? The world is aging with us. Societies all over the globe are facing this challenge of an aging population and what it means to society at large. The use of varied assistive technologies is just one approach that will allow this aging population to do so with grace. Each individual has the power to decide which technologies meet their needs. It is our role as therapists to evaluate, to inform and to find solutions. We, as Occupational Therapists are in a unique position to offer assistance in this area. We have the expertise in adaptive equipment. We work on prevention of loss and improving independence. Work, self-care and leisure are our areas of practice where the use of assistive technologies can truly make a difference. Answers are out there. This concept of Dementia and how the use of assistive technologies can be a part of the solution is a huge topic. This topic cannot fully be explored in just one article. There are resources out there to help in this challenge. One course entitled “Assistive Technology and Dementia: Therapeutic Tools to Enhance the Lives of Clients Living with Dementia” published by otcourses.com offers more insight into this challenge and possible solutions to this problem. We hope it will also encourage conversation about this complex issue. It is a challenge that needs to be explored. There are answers out there. We can find these solutions together. We, as Occupational Therapists need to think and practice differently as the world changes around us. We are part of a more positive tomorrow!