There is, as the oft-used phrase so often goes, an app for just about everything these days. But few areas of mobile application development have seen quite such rapid growth or emerging diversity of function than that of dementia care. With the Apple iPad and Google Android tablet becoming ever more ubiquitous, more and more carers and health professionals are making use of mobile technology to enhance the lives of people with dementia, and as the take-up across the world gradually increases the practical benefits are becoming ever clearer.
The major advantage of online app stores such as Google Play and iTunes, of course, is that they allow international distribution of programs as soon as they are made available, allowing their immediate use by the broadest possible audience. No longer do potential users have to wait for a physical copy of the latest releases to appear for purchase - the digital marketplace not only brings the latest apps direct to your device, but also provides a forum for people to discuss their respective merits and collaborate with regard to the best ways to get the most from each program.
And certainly, there is now no shortage of choice when it comes to dementia-related apps. Thanks to dedicated online resources such as Memory Apps for Dementia, the full gamut of mobile programs for dementia can be consulted at a glance. Art creation apps, which allow finger-controlled drawing and painting to take place anywhere without the need for traditional art media. Music apps, lending a mobile device the functionality of different instruments such as a piano keyboard. Reminiscence apps, including the playback of video and sound clips from different decades and significant historical events. There are even apps with less obvious applications, such as eBook readers with text-to-speech capability which can vocalise the content of books for people with reading difficulties, and digital radio stations with nostalgic programming which play round-the-clock music of different vintages. With many of these programs available for free download, and others remaining relatively inexpensive, there has never been a better time to start browsing for the right solutions to help support people with dementia in expressing and enjoying themselves.
Mobile devices such as Android tablets and iPads are lightweight and easy to handle, and are now available with a number of different touchscreen sizes which can allow people affected by dementia to find the model which they find easiest and most convenient to use. Organisations such as East Dunbartonshire Council have piloted technology projects to great effect, using mobile devices in combination with other hardware solutions such as projector systems to provide a holistic approach to creativity which has helped people with dementia to overcome isolation and engage with different modes of artistic expression. The many possible applications of mobile devices have led charities such as Bristol’s Alive! Activities to offer instruction on the most effective use of this technology, aiding carers and health care professionals in finding the best solutions to support people with dementia.
The above summation barely scratches the surface of the many different apps which are now available for the use of people affected by dementia, and yet there is yet another entirely different aspect of mobile technology to consider in the form of programs which are specifically designed for carers. Apps have been developed, free of charge, to provide advice and information related to the many different medical and practical aspects of dementia, including where to seek health guidance in the user’s local area. Some programs have even been released which include diagnostic tools for people who wish to test themselves for the onset of the disorder, though with the clear caveat that they should not be used as a substitute for the assessment of a qualified health expert. More recently, health monitoring apps have been published to advise on ways of improving personal health - including diet and lifestyle - to reduce the risk of dementia’s onset.
Like so many aspects of computer technology, the advancement of dementia-related apps shows no sign of slowing down, and as the uptake of mobile devices is predicted to dramatically increase in the years ahead it seems that this new avenue of digital development will be with us for the foreseeable future. As a practical, multimedia tool to encourage artistic expressiveness and support reminiscence activities such as life story work, we are currently only seeing the tip of the iceberg, with many more innovative solutions still to emerge in the months and years to come. And as an Internet-enabled source of information and assistance, the same technology has just as much potential to provide a lifeline for families and carers - especially when advice is required during unsociable hours, or when away from home. It seems, then, that the digital revolution has truly arrived in the arena of dementia, and one which continues to demonstrate new and valuable applications.