‘Act now for a dementia-friendly future,’ is the message of this year’s Dementia Action Week (18-24 September). The fear and stigma that a diagnosis of dementia carries can seriously impede the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and open communication. Thankfully, modern technology can help improve the lives of people living with dementia. There is now an opportunity for all aged care providers to consider digital technology to improve safety and provide quality care. The following are seven reasons to consider.
More people are living with dementia and even more people are involved in their care – the demand is clear.
Over 400,000 people in Australia live with dementia, according to Dementia Australia, with an estimated 1.5 million people involved in their care. These numbers are climbing and while there is no cure, the number of people living with dementia is expected to double by 2058. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that 137 million people worldwide will have dementia by 2050. In 2021 the WHO published a toolkit Towards a Dementia Inclusive Society, “empowering people living with dementia to remain in, and be a significant part of, their community”. The toolkit showcases examples from around the world of initiatives that include and empower people living with dementia to participate in society and lists opportunities for improving safety, improving accessibility, and implementing enabling technology.
Wandering and living with dementia can be life-threatening – better care for the most vulnerable in society.
Around 70% of people living with dementia go missing at least once. There are many reasons for this, well described by Dementia Australia in a fact sheet to help improve awareness of the commonly used term of wandering. For example, the person may be bored, be in an unfamiliar environment, or forget where they are. One such experience was the deeply distressing story of Nancy Paulikas, found two weeks after she went missing from a public toilet while shopping with her husband. This was documented in the New Yorker earlier this year.
Reforms for in-home care make provision for technology support – innovation pays off.
The prevalence of people living with dementia is rising. Most will be single older women living on their own. Finding ways to support a person to enjoy life and remain in their home for as long as possible is a priority for most, but also for the government, with reforms for in-home care funding and support underway.
Technology gives home care providers an enhanced role of care coordination that will improve service and support, providing more with less – change requires a smarter model of care.
In a world of increased digital connectedness and families knowing their children’s whereabouts with apps like Life360, we can order and manage almost anything with a click on an app. Improving technology for people living with dementia to link their circle of support and navigate their care needs is long overdue. The opportunity is ripe for home care providers to lead this coordination with well-designed, smarter, and safer connected homes. Technology like this will enable care coordination to be managed at scale, have stronger clinical and operational governance, and link to those involved in the care and support of the person who needs it. This ultimately improves information and timely response.
A person can live longer at home with technology support – the digital journey is a game-changer.
Research undertaken by CSIRO, a randomised trial of smarter connected homes, showed that older people who stayed at home longer had an improved quality of life. The use of IoT sensors provided the necessary data for early recognition of decline. This data also provided evidence of increased needs attracting additional funding, such as upgrades to home care packages, which is vitally important. The hardship caused when care needs exceed the funding available creates considerable stress, particularly on family, friends, and neighbours. In many cases can be the trigger for entering a residential aged care home. This CSIRO data platform and its technology ecosystem, now more fully developed by Talius, was listed in the Critical Technologies Statement published in May 2023 by the Australian Government, confirming it’s in the national interest to support healthy ageing, dignity, and improved health outcomes. The CSIRO algorithm, part of the Talius platform, identifies changes in the activities of daily living.
Models of care that include technology are happening – don’t get left behind.
Understanding the difference between smart homes and smarter, safer, connected homes for older people or people living with dementia requires rethinking. Consider the difference between a connected home that communicates with the person’s social and healthcare
network. While there are many technological devices available that individually provide a function or have a useful feature (think of the robotic vacuum cleaner, remote apps for managing temperature control, Google Nest, or Alexa), these are consumer applications that can make a difference to a person’s living experience, making tasks easier and certainly have their place.
Know the difference between consumer tech products and enterprise data platforms for a smarter and safer connected home –planning for innovation now and the roadmap ahead.
There are many assistive technologies listed for people living with dementia. Yet, these are limited to the task at hand without, for example, safety features for alerts for flat batteries and power outages. The technology that connects a person to their social and healthcare network is a data platform using ambient IoT sensors and other integrated devices. These provide valuable data that describes a pattern of living. There are no cameras and no recordings, and it is not invasive. More importantly, the data provides opportunities to discuss changes and explore how care and support are designed around the person and their capabilities, not their condition.
Dementia Action Week is a time to think about how we can make our communities dementia-friendly and inclusive and design them to enable improved understanding and improved models of care.
Subscribe below to receive our articles about digital tech and the transformation journey.
70% of people living with dementia
New Yorker – How to Find a Missing Person with Dementia
Single older women
Reforms for in-home care
Randomied trial of smarter connected homes
Critical Technologies Statement
World Health Organisation
Towards a dementia inclusive society
Assistive technologies listed