In today's world we all use technology to assist us in performing our daily tasks, from checking in with our family on our mobile phones, using Skype or FaceTime to video call loved ones far away, watching a favourite program on BBC iPlayer. We use our satnavs to find our way when driving, we order our food online, we use devices to monitor our movements during the day to stay healthy. We can even find our potential partners via online dating.
Technology touches us all and there is potential for technology to be a great assistance and help for people living with dementia and their carers.
When we discuss the use of technology it can seem inhuman, devoid of human contact and detached from 'real life' and complicated. The arguments are not unique to the world of dementia, in all walks of life we have to consider if the use of technology, enhances or diminishes our lives, and we constantly make these decisions as individuals. Some of you may have decided not to use social media as a conscious decision, some find it more engaging going to the shop than shopping online, others find that shopping online gives them more quality time for other activities.
When we consider using technology as support for people living with dementia we have to include the individuals in the decision. Research has shown that sometimes using what we might consider intrusive technology, such as night monitors, GPS trackers etc. can be viewed by the individual who uses it as a life enhancer on par with walking sticks for those unsteady on their feet, or glasses for those of us who don't have 20/20 vision. For more see our blog post on support for people living with dementia in remote areas.
A part of what makes the potential for assistive technology so great is that it has the ability to support independence rather than to control the lives of the people using it. Take for example the person who has a disruptive sleeping pattern who may have a sensor on their bed which alerts a carer that they have gotten out of bed if they do not return within in a specified amount of time. That individual still has the freedom to get up and use the toilet independently without anyone else being notified, but then their only option is to go back to bed. But when you or I wake up at night we might want to sit in our lounge and read a book or watch TV. This same freedom should be considered as a part of the assistive technology package offered to people. Our current technology has the capability of talking to its various parts, so that if the person with dementia wakes at night and doesn’t want to get back into bed and chooses to read instead, the sensor on their favourite chair can “speak” to the system controlling the sensor in their bed and let it know that the person is safe, in an expected place, reducing the unnecessary emergency checks that would otherwise occur. In this way smart technology when correctly structured can enhance independence and self-determination in its users.
Therefore when considering the use of technology as part of the support provided to the individual living with dementia it should not be seen as an easy or quick fix but be considered as an improvement to complement their care.
It is important that we include people with dementia in the design process of technology solutions, and preferably beyond the technology developed exclusively for them. In today's world technology is used in so many aspects of life, developers and designers of controls for our homes, for our mobile devices etc., there is no reason why they can't at an early stage consider how the application will work for someone living with dementia, in today's world technology can be developed to be very adaptable.
In 2014 the dementia friendly technology charter was launched. It provides a good overview of areas to consider when introducing technology:
The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland have produced a good practice guide: 'Decisions about technology' 2015