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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Can Technology Shape the Personal Narratives of Dementia Care?

When I reflect on technology, it often feels like a world of complexity that I'm not entirely familiar with—something distant from the emotional challenges of being a caregiver for a loved one with dementia. How could gadgets and gizmos possibly ease the weight of such a profoundly human role? Yet, as the looming dementia crisis unfolds and available caregivers dwindle, the question persists: How can we sustain and enhance dementia caregiving? Especially when 63% of current caregivers, much like myself, lack formal training and resources to navigate the intricacies of this complex disease.

As caregivers, we grapple with the inherent fallibility of being human—we make mistakes, we can't be omnipresent 24/7, and the toll on our own well-being is palpable. The search for support and expertise becomes a pressing need. And then there's the learning curve. Many of us caregivers are well into our 50s, heading towards our mid-80s. The question lingers: Are we open to embracing new technology?

Contrary to my initial skepticism, today's technology is not only booming but surprisingly user-friendly and intuitive. Take the smart technology we carry in our pockets every day—our smartphones. Now, this technology extends beyond mere convenience; it actively contributes to monitoring our loved ones when we're away. GPS technology, initially designed to locate our misplaced phones, has seamlessly transitioned into wearable devices that help us keep track of our loved ones, especially during bouts of sundowning and wandering.

One technology that has become a lifeline for me is the medicine manager—a computerized box that not only prompts but also delivers medications to our loved ones precisely on time. If they forget, the machine persistently reminds them. And if that doesn't work, it alerts a chosen family member about the missed medication. This simple yet brilliant solution allowed my own mom to stay at home for an additional year.

Technology isn't just about meeting medical needs; it extends to enriching our loved ones' lives. From captivating videos to 3D gaming events like Wii, where they can go bowling or dance from the comfort of their chair. I'm eagerly anticipating further developments, such as virtual reality experiences that could transport my loved one on a cherished fishing trip without ever leaving their bed. There's also talk of robots being developed in France—programmable companions that can sing together and provide hours of entertainment.

Safety at home is another area where technology has proven invaluable. Stovetops with automatic shut-offs, light sensors illuminating hazardous stairways, and night lighting—all designed to reduce risks and prevent falls, providing peace of mind for caregivers like myself.

Furthermore, technology serves as an educational tool, offering learning opportunities and answers to the myriad questions that arise in caregiving. My prediction is that dementia-assisted technology will continue to evolve rapidly, offering solutions that genuinely support caregivers like me, making our roles a bit less overwhelming. As we continue to hope for a cure or groundbreaking medications, let's embrace the technology that, for today, is a beacon of support, making the journey of caregiving more navigable until that longed-for day arrives.

For more thoughts on dementia-based technology see chapter 8 Technology for Dementia in my book Taming the Chaos of Dementia.

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