How Can Dogs Help Alzheimer’s Patients?

When it comes to comprehensive care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there are more options now than ever before. Advanced Day Clocks such as RecallCue address one need but others are offering their own innovative solutions. Many families have found respite and support with the aid of canine companions, either as service dogs or therapy dogs. Rover’s in-depth guide covers everything you need to know on the topic:

  • The history and research surrounding service dogs
  • Information about training service and therapy dogs
  • How companion dogs improve patients’ quality of life
  • The role of therapy dogs in assisted-living facilities
  • How to find a support animal

A service dog can help get a patient home in a crisis, call for help, and ensure that the patient never leaves home unaccompanied. The dog’s GPS tracker enables families to quickly locate their loved one, so they don’t get lost. The specific training that these animals receive can have remarkable effects on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including improved mood, independence, and confidence. If you or someone you care about is struggling with the limitations caused by this health condition, a service or therapy dog may offer the guidance and support you’ve been seeking.

Are we Cord Cutting TV Away from Seniors with Dementia?

Cord cutting innovations such as Hulu, Netflix, Roku, Sling TV and Amazon have made television watching simpler and cheaper–for most people. For senior citizens, especially those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and MCI, these new ways of watching TV are leading to confusion with their new paradigm in navigation and operation. With cable television getting less and less common and more expensive, these seniors are running out of options.

I experienced this first hand with my mother in law.  At 85 and suffering from dementia, she watches only about 2-3 cable channels. Nevertheless, she was paying about $100/month for cable television. I thought this was excessive for the value she was getting, so I invested in a Roku as a way to help her save money. Almost immediately after setting up the Roku, I realized that she was not going to be able to use it and within days I took out the Roku, re-installed cable and she is back to her $75- $100/month bills.

Instead of a familiar “instant on” experience whereby pushing a button leads to an immediate watching experience (and on the last channel viewed Roku (and from my experience all cord cutting solutions) present the user with a menu. From there, you need to navigate to your profile, then your genre, then your show. This (understandably) confused my mother-in-law greatly, and proved too great a barrier to overcome. After decades of “push button = watch TV” there was just no way I was going to teach her to use the remote to navigate through endless menus. For someone suffering from dementia it’s not a matter of education- it’s a cognitive impossibility.  I had been through a similar challenge with my mother in law and other technologies and that led me to create RecallCue, a connected dementia day clock, but I was not going to re-create TV.

This experience got me thinking. Seniors represent a huge portion of the television industry’s target group. According to The Washington Post, “Audiences for the major broadcast network shows are much older and aging even faster, with a median age of 53.9 years old, up 7 percent from four years ago.” And yet, there are very few devices in place to facilitate the cord cutting experience for seniors.

Younger users can adapt to quickly changing interfaces and remotes, but older users are not going to be comfortable memorizing new configurations and navigations. These changes on how to operate a TV may seem small, but they are enough to make a senior citizen struggle and for seniors with dementia or other memory impairment they are absolute “show stoppers”.

Many senior citizens are unable to easily leave their homes, and rely on television to access the weather, stay on top of the news, and be alerted of any emergencies. Televisions often serve as the primary or only entertainment elderly citizens have in their home. Senior citizens need TV, and cord cutting trends are taking it away from them.

Cable companies, as well as new TV tools like Roku and Amazon Fire Stick need to be aware of the needs of their senior users so that they can make the necessary adaptations. These changes are relatively easy to implement, and I believe that they would increase the consumer base of these new technologies tremendously by including senior friendly options to their offering. Something as easy as a “traditional mode” would make a huge difference in the ease of use for someone who has spent 30 years watching TV a certain way.

  1. The on button should turn the TV on- This might sound ridiculous, but more often than not, these days there is not one simple on button that turns the television on to an actual TV channel. Whether it’s Netflix or traditional cable, elderly users need to be able to turn on the big red button and see the TV show or channel they were watching last, otherwise, many will not know how to proceed. This is how TV worked for 50 years, and it’s extremely confusing to change it.
  2. Channel surfing – users should not be required to stop/pause a program, exit, go back several times to a main menu and navigate a never-ending list of programs to change the channel. Providers should allow for a  familiar up and down arrow button to move ahead or back in the channel list.
  3. Cheaper options from traditional cable– Cable companies should offer minimalist packages with only the channels needed and reduce the price of the packages. This has long been a complaint against the cable companies and the single biggest contribution to the cord-cutting phenomenon. Seniors who are unable to use newer pay by channel cord cutting technologies are hit the hardest and have no option other than shelling out for huge cable bills.
  4. Intuitive, simple remotes– To their credit the remotes provided by Roku and Amazon are much more minimalist then those of the cable companies. Unfortunately, the layouts and options are synced with the new menu/profile options on the devices. These companies should support a remote control layout that is familiar and intuitive with On/Off, Channel Up/ Channel Down and Volume controls.

When it comes to reaching an elderly audience, the key is to simplify and keep things traditional. Innovation is great, but it’s not always great for everyone. Cord cutting companies are in a unique position to help the senior population – especially those suffering from dementia. By introducing a “simple” mode to their products that mimics the TV experience seniors are used to, these companies will go a long way to bringing affordable ad manageable TV entertainment to this population

Choosing a Day Clock

There are many types of dementia day clocks on the market.  This article surveys the current state of the market and lists the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Click here to read.

 

Can music therapy really help dementia patients?

A few months ago a close friend sent me a video entitled “Gait training for Parkinson’s patient using music”. The video documents a mid-late Parkinson’s patient struggling to walk with his aid – until the music starts. Suddenly the walker is abandoned and the patient seems to break into a dance like motion humming along to the music. At first I was skeptical. Yes, I have heard about and read  much of the research showing the benefits of music for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, but this seemed extreme… until I witnessed for myself the  power of music as a means of therapy for dementia patients.

 

My mother in law had recently suffered a fall and was in the hospital awaiting surgery on hip. Being both in pain and in unfamiliar surroundings she was understandably agitated and non-cooperative with the nursing staff. We were really at a loss and then I remembered the above-mentioned video. I took out my phone and started playing some Frank Sinatra songs. The effect was instantaneous. It was if my mother in law had just received a sedative and the nurses were able to proceed and prep my mother in law for her surgery. While not every dementia patient will respond the same there are enough first-hand stories out there to attest to its benefits.

Why and what stages of dementia benefit most from music is still up for debate but here are some of the major theories.

 

  1. Music triggers memories from youth – According to neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, “”Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” This seems to be backed up by data presented in a 2010 Boston University study that showed that music has the power to unlock past memories more then other means. This same study was also one of the first to claim that music is not only beneficial for recalling past memories, it actually can help dementia patients process and retain new information.
  2. Music acts as a calming agent evoking positive emotions. Agitation is a well-known side effect of dementia. There is much discussion as to the mid to long term benefits of music on reversing the agitation brought on by dementia. In a paper published in January 2010 several clinical trials are reviewed. Most studies presented seem to indicate significant short-term calming effects but limited mid-long term effects. “The researchers found that while music therapy reduced agitated behaviors, including anxiety, irritability and restlessness, these improvements were not present in the findings 1 month after the sessions, implying the effects of music therapy did not last 1 month.”
  3. Music has a neurological effect on the brain. “Dr. Maggie Haertsch, CEO of the Arts Health Institute, “the music awakens a part of the brain not impacted by dementia and evokes responses, such as singing and movement, and brief moments of re-connection with loved ones.” In another study conducted back in 1986 it was found that music evoked a response that was measurable in physiological changes such as respiratory rates and maxiofacial movement. Additional studies concluded that “increases the chance of activating neurological pathways that language alone cannot.”
  4. Active singing as opposed to passive listening provides the greatest benefit for moderate to severe dementia patients. According to a 2013 study presented at the Society for Neuroscience, “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.” After analyzing groups of patients who both participated in active and non-active music sessions. “…data show that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia.”

There is much research still to be done on this topic but there is an overwhelming amount of both clinical and anecdotal evidence to suggest that music has a real benefit for people with dementia. At RecallCue we are committed to introducing new features that will take advantage of music and transform our connected Day Clock into a hub for music therapy. It will be exciting to see how others use this research to produce assistive technologies that use music as a form of therapy.

SNL Echo Silver – Too Close to Home for Many

SNL recently aired a parody of the Amazon Echo “poking fun” at the elderly population. There was a good deal of criticism voiced about the piece. On a serious note – It’s a shame that Amazon doesn’t see the huge potential of an Echo like device in assisting the elderly. There is a great deal of research describing the benefits of music for those suffering from dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Amazon with its ability to produce fantastic products and its vast library of music content is in a unique position to introduce a revolutionary product.

RecallCue is not sitting back and waiting for Amazon- we are hard at work on our own music features for our connected day clock.

Robots as a tool for combating loneliness

I came across this article today and it got me thinking about the use of technology in general and robots in particular for improving quality of life for dementia and MCI patients.

 

On the one hand the problem is real. Given the realities of life, children can’t be full time caregivers and connected health devices have a real place. On the other hand the thought of replacing human interaction and companionship with a robot is alarming. We seem to be reducing loneliness down to a chemical reaction. I can see a day soon where we will be prescribing a drug to counter the loneliness brain function. Problem solved!? Do robots have their place? Sure, personally I think replacing the human floor washer with an iRobot is a great use. Replacing a child or caregiver – not so much. At RecallCue we are looking to create devices that facilitate human interaction with the elderly – not replace it.

Should we be disrupting dementia?

Based on my own experience both caring for a family member with dementia as well as being a co-founder in a related startup, I found this to be an extremely important article. I would not advocate stopping to try and disrupt- rather 1) learn from the mistakes made and keep improving, 2) listen to the advice of the experts, 3) as with any product, talk to and understand the customer base. (Build, Measure, Learn)

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tech-developers-stop-trying-disrupt-dementiaits-rachael-wonderlin-ms?trk=v-feed&trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_profile_view_base_recent_activity_details_shares%3BqTHzFlOgKEopR86EnAvS%2BQ%3D%3D

RecallCue – Digital Memory Aid

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce the release of RecallCue, a digital memory aid for families caring for a loved one with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) or early stage dementia.

As with any product release I have been involved with over my last 10+ years as a Product/Project Manager, there is great satisfaction and excitement in seeing a concept come to fruition. The countless hours of design, architecture and functionality discussions; the back and forth with potential users; the last minute go-no-go decision. All this leading up to “the big moment” when everything is in place and ready to launch. In the past, with other products, I would participate in post launch celebrations and high fives to the team. But this time is different. This time the product idea came to me out of personal need.

For the last 4 years our extended family has been caring for my mother-law who suffers from dementia. I witness every day the challenges my mother-in-law and the family face. On the one hand even the most basic things such as knowing what day of the week or time of day it is can’t be taken for granted. On the other hand the reality of life and geography don’t allow for everyone to have the level of communication and involvement they would like. In Product Management we call this identifying the “pain point” of the customer. Unfortunately the pain that family members experience caring for someone with dementia is very real and all to obvious. The statistics on the growth rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s are staggering. It is estimated that every 4 seconds someone new is diagnosed.

I am not naive in thinking that RecallCue will cure or even slow down the effects of dementia (see recent post by Rachael Wonderlin on this topic http://bit.ly/2rDZ1dX). Like many technologies I truly believe that when used with the right “customer” it can provide real benefits.

1)     It’s true, a person with late stage Dementia will not benefit from a Day Clock (a popular aid for knowing time of day and day of week), but someone who is in early stages or pre-diagnose can (and based on my research does) benefit greatly from this simple tool.

2)     The comfort and accessibility given to the family members, especially those who may live out of town is immeasurable. No, “Bubby” may not remember the beautiful picture of her great-grandson that was posted early this morning, but I happened to be there when it was and saw the smile on her face and joy it brought to her at that moment.

So, unlike past product releases- this one is bittersweet at best. I am satisfied knowing that I and my business partner, Ephraim Tabackman, may be able to help bring a smile – even for a moment – to someone else’s grandparent but at the same time I am frightened by the number of people this product may help.