These days there’s an app for just about everything, including a slew targeted at people with memory issues and their caregivers. While many of these are not useful, other assistive technologies could be lifesavers, figuratively and literally.
“There are hundreds of products and computer apps being marketed to help people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but very few are clinically proven,” says James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Consumers need to evaluate these products carefully and ask themselves, ‘Where is the proof that this product or app will actually help?’ ” The answer is highly individual, based on the level of cognitive impairment of the person with dementia and the needs of the caregivers.
“Some of these apps have very little reality with what people with dementia are experiencing,” says Heather M. Young, a dean at the University of California, Davis, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and a faculty member of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society Health Initiative.
For example, if you’re worried about a person who might wander away, a GPS bracelet might sound like a great idea. But “people with dementia try to take things off them that they don’t think are normally on their body,” says Young. A bracelet left home won’t do much good. And it might cause agitation in the person wearing it or, worse, the bracelet could give a false sense of security for the caregiver about the safety of their loved one.
Perhaps you’d like to try an alert button for a parent with very mild memory impairment who still insists on living alone. “There’s interesting data around whether people will wear them,” says Jeffrey Kaye, a neurologist who directs the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Oregon Health & Science University and researches technologies for the aging. “People are reluctant to press the button because it will alert you that it’s time for them to go to a nursing home,” he says. If you try to solve for that with a device that reports falls automatically, it can give false alarms if the person drops it or swings the button. Even when a device works well, someone has to remember to charge it, Kaye says.