Dementia is an incredibly destructive and heartbreaking disease. Watching someone you love, slowly lose their ability to remember things, to remember you, to talk, to walk and the fear of having to lose your independent relative to the thralls of a nursing home. In the early stages of dementia, there is often only incredibly mild symptoms that relatives may pass off as absentmindedness; they may forget or lose their keys, they may leave milk out, or forget to turn their running water off. It can be stressful for families, they might find themselves worrying about leaving their relatives alone, overnight, and it may seem the only solution, as their symptoms progress further, to put them into care. Dementia can be a slow disease, it usually has around a five to six year prognosis once it is diagnosed in the early stages, but certain factors can mean these figures change. Dementia will manifest in people differently, there are many types of dementia and lots of lifestyle factors play a part in how much people are affected when living at home; if their physical capacity is diminished, if they lose the ability to communicate well or if they are living with any other diseases at the time.
But this doesn’t mean that in these early changes, you need to force your relative into a nursing home. There are plenty of new technologies nowadays that are assisting people in living at home for longer, which halts the fear of hefty fees, choosing a nursing home and severing your relatives connection to their home; a place where they feel comfortable, happy and safe. Moving into a home can be a very damaging and stressful time for your relative; they’ll feel confused, scared and be unsure as to why they are leaving home; but thanks to new technologies, this may not have to be the case as we move forward into the new decade. Technology is forever advancing, within medicine and within care, and millions upon millions of people worldwide suffer with some form of dementia or Alzheimers. Their homes must meet regulations to ensure that they are living without any hazards; open fires and gas can pose a threat, as well as homes that aren’t well lit, tidiness of the home to prevent any mishaps such as falls or stumbling around the home. If they are still of age to be driving, it may be worth flagging this up with a nurse or your care assistant to see if they are still capable of using their car; any immediate dangers must be eliminated as well as tests to see if their physical health is up to par. If they need aids around the house such as stairlifts, wheelchairs, medicines or new beds so that they are living safely but still in comfort. Many things can be done to assist care at home for dementia patients; but of course it all begins with noticing the signs and having a clear diagnosis and prognosis.
Diagnosis is the very beginning of the journey; any mild symptoms should be checked out as soon as possible. You don’t want your relative to feel scared of any new symptoms arising; but denial too, may play a role in this; many relatives do not want to have to admit that their relative has dementia, it is scary and the beginning of a new journey. Diagnosis can often be done at the hospital, and rule out any other issues such as stroke – however, some types of dementia are caused by a continuation of mini strokes that may not be detected, so staying vigilant with your relatives behaviour is going to be important for the start of the journey. If your relative has already been diagnosed with dementia, the important part of care is monitoring changes and deterioration. It is an inevitable part of the disease but for the patient in question, they are often blissfully unaware that anything is wrong with them, even as they return to their childhood state and unable to speak coherently, they will still believe that they are living as normal and will often live in some kind of fantasy world that is heightened by hallucinations; another symptom to look out for.
So what are these new advances and how can they shape the future of how we care for dementia patients? They are truly innovative and can bring a clearer brighter future for those who are suffering with the disease; dementia care is so important now that we know much more about it. Nursing homes can be costly, it may even mean your relative having to sell all their assets in order to pay for their care; and nursing homes are incredibly overcrowded, there may even be waiting lists, so keeping them at home for longer may well be the best option for all. There is a mass of research being put into dementia, how it affects the body, how it starts and possible cures, but the main thing today, until that solution is found, is to keep the patients feeling secure.
- Robotic devices – the world is being led by the future of robotic machinery. Already, robots are performing life saving surgery and have been making equipment for many years; so the development of new robotic devices in cases of dementia will be incredibly exciting. The key in essence, is to create a device that will interact with people living at home; it will assess their situations, monitor their homes and the things going on inside their homes. For example, if they have spilled water or food on the floor, the device would spy this out and would interact to let them know. It is a brilliant safety technique, that sounds futuristic but would be incredibly important for people living alone. If there are any hazards around the home, it would monitor these also.
- Sensors – these sensors would be placed in and around the home which would monitor the vital signs of people with dementia. Dementia can affect physical health aspects, including blood pressure and heart rate. They may see dips and peaks in blood pressure which can exacerbate the dementia symptoms. Vascular dementia in particular is a cardiovascular issue, so sensors would be helpful. Not only would they monitor the patient physically but also their body temperature; to ensure that they are not living in a temperature which is too cold (and damaging) for them or too hot, which may make them feel dizzy or sick. If they struggle putting their heating systems on or regulating the temperature of their homes, this can sense it.
- Artificial intelligence – whilst this sounds incredibly futuristic, it is something that could be implemented in the coming decade. This method would automatically integrate patient’s information and if there were any changes, it would highlight them immediately and flag up sudden changes. Dementia patients may be at risk of certain infections, all of which could exacerbate their symptoms; urine infections in particular can affect their brains in a negative way, so keeping them safe from this and monitoring them will stop this happening. It can also sense changes in walking patterns or physicality, which could possibly mean the chance of a fall; which could be very dangerous to an elderly person living with dementia. It is about prevention; which is the only way to handle problems associated with dementia.
- Track changes to the patient’s memory and their thinking abilities – it is possible that a nurse already comes by to check the patient and to see how their dementia may be progressing; but this is not constant monitoring and patients are in desperate need of twenty four hour care that can track changes. By monitoring their behaviour inside their home with new technologies, we can learn and assist them. By seeing how dementia patients cope when they’re alone and any patterns that can be seen could help the future of how we handle dementia. The technology would not interfere at all with any every day activity, it would only be able to assist researchers into helping patients when they run into any problems.
- Keeping on top of physical health to eliminate any further risks – keeping on top of risks for infection in the home will be such a vital element to stop dementia patients contracting a potentially detrimental infection. Infections such as urine infections, throat infections, chest infections can be so dangerous to the vulnerable. They are likely to make their dementia worse; they may become agitated, suspicious of people, angry and frightened and there is a chance they may even need to be hospitalised if their infection is not detected early. Early prevention is key and by looking into simple at home tests for common infections will detect them early and have them sent to a local GP who can diagnose and treat them effectively.
New technologies can ultimately transform the way we deal with dementia, the way patients deal with dementia and families alike, it can be a beacon of hope for those in the future that are wanting their relatives to stay at home for longer. Any poor care in dementia will lead to deaths and patients being admitted to hospitals which only overcrowds wards and puts pressure on medical systems and patients too, which can all be avoided with new simple technologies. Of course, they need to be well financed, it takes financial assistance, patience and attention to detail to bring these ideas to fruition but they are well on the way to being a viable option in the coming months and years.
All this technology above may sound beyond wonderful to those who live with dementia but the one element that must not be forgotten and won’t be forgotten is the human element. People with dementia are still people. They still need care, human touch, a conversation, even if they don’t understand that conversation, they like to talk, to express themselves and it’s important that they don’t begin to suffer with loneliness. If they have no family, they may not have someone to come sit with them for a cup of tea for an hour. The improvement with technology can only be a good thing and intervene at early stages, and prevent further problems to help everyone on all levels. Human contact will always be a huge bonus, but often this can take time and money but the core of the problem, on a medical level can be controlled well. Ensuring dementia patients aren’t alone and aren’t feeling isolated from the world can be well managed by other means, but technologies are mostly to be used for the practical side of dementia, keeping patients safe, monitoring their changes, keeping them safe at home and allowing them to live the life they are used to for longer, if they should want it.
Raising more money for the implementation of these technologies will be vital and there are many charities, often in your local city/area which will always be open to donations for dementia support and more and more cities and countries are becoming ‘dementia friendly’ to help those who live independently and to know people in the area who may suffer with the disease and to ensure they are being looked after. Dementia care in Australia has some pioneering ideas and are leading the way in the future of dementia home care. It is believed that keeping dementia patients at home for longer, may halt the progression of the disease slightly, due to the patients remaining active and still being able to be physical, such as cooking for themselves, if possible, going out to the shop, all this is taken from them if they are put into a nursing home. Their last remaining shreds of independence can be kept in tact until their disease becomes too progressed and they are incapable of living alone, but more often than not, patients are put into nursing homes before they need to be, which is a huge shock to their system. Therefore, we should focus solely on the benefits and positives of keeping dementia patients at home for longer, it’s possible and it’s necessary.