Technologies for living with dementia

Since beginning the Care Technologist project, the team have picked up from conversations that there can sometimes be a misconception that technologies do not fit into a support plan for people living with dementia. This is suggested partly due to a gap in understanding the variety of ways people and technology can interact together. We are going to de-bunk this today!

To understand the variety of ways technology exists in our lives, it’s important to first look at our perceptions of what technology is and how we interact with it.

So, what is technology?

The Care Technologist team consider technology to be any device, system or tool that has been scientifically designed with the purpose of enabling and supporting practical living. This means that technology doesn’t have to be plugged in, downloaded, signed up for or turned on – as long as it’s designed for assisting or streamlining practical living, it has a technological use. While technology does not have to be for everyone, the team believe that everyone should have the choice to use technology in their daily lives.

What are the ways that technology interacts?

Secondly, the way we interact with technology can differ. There are many devices, systems and tools that require a user – someone to turn it on, sign up, log in, and operate it in order to access the benefits. Some technology requires this only at the beginning of use, others not at all. The latter technology is simply working in the background, supporting practical living just by being there – providing prompts and reminders, sensory support, allowing communication and monitoring safety. This sort of technology can be especially useful for those who don’t want the burden of managing multiple devices, being responsible for charging and updating it, or don’t have the knowledge of how to do these things.

Finally, when considering how technology can support people living with dementia, it’s important to be aware of the varying stages and types of dementia, and how different symptoms can interact or affect technology use. There are over 200 sub-types of dementia which present different challenges, ranging from changes to mobility, cognition, sight and judgement (data from Dementia UK). Some technology will be more suitable for some people than others, but there will always be technology to support people, regardless of the type of dementia they live with.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a shortlist of technology we are currently working with that supports practical living, that is especially beneficial for supporting people living with forms of dementia.

Kettle Companion

Kettle Companions (a small light-up sphere) can be placed in a loved ones’ home to allow light touch monitoring. A secondary twin device is placed in a family member’s home which will turn to a different colour when their loved one is boiling their kettle, or in the instance the kettle hasn’t boiled by a pre-set time.

Locating tags

Tags are a versatile tracker for keys, bags, phones, remote controls and more. This device works with Bluetooth, can be managed via smartphone app and can pinpoint a lost item on a map. If you have the tile handy, it’s possible to reverse the locator and find the smartphone too.

Hydration reminders

These small devices attach to any water bottle or standard sized glass and blink to remind you to hydrate, can detect when you take a drink. Ideal reminders for those who need a gentle prompt to stay hydrated, but only use a blinking light to do so – therefore not ideal for those with low vision. We’re looking for other hydration reminders that support a wider range of people, so stay tuned!

Companion pet

Robotic pets such as cats are great for homes unable to host animals and have proven to be a therapeutic aid for people living with dementia. The team have seen these pets work wonders for residents in a care home setting and bring lots of joy to those around them!

  • Cat purrs, sleeps, reacts to attention
  • Can be muted while turned on
  • Uses batteries

Universal remote

A simplified TV remote can be a small adjustment to make, but great for improving independence. The remote pairs to any TV, and reduces the button varieties to just the essentials.

  • Large buttons that are easy to press and well-spaced out
  • Ideal for people living with dementia or with low visibility

If you would like to know more about technology that we are using to support people to live well and independently, we have collated a catalogue of technology we are currently using in the Care Technologist project. If you would like to be sent a copy, please email [email protected] and specify if you would like a digital or paper copy.

For more information on technology, dementia and assisted living, we think these links below are worth a look at too:

The power of listening devices – and how to control your data

Just over half of households with internet access in the UK own a voice assistant – an Echo Dot or Google Hub for example – and there is evidence that this number will continue to increase. Listening devices can have a massive impact on improving independence, control and convenience in someone’s home, however there is reluctance amongst some to use them. As Care Technologists, we often hear people talking about how “Alexa is always listening to you” and “Google is recording all of your conversations”. So how much truth is there behind such ideas? And what are some of the things to consider around data privacy and voice assistants?

It is undeniable the convenience a voice assistant can provide. Being able to switch the lights and heating on and off with a simple voice command can have an incredibly positive impact on people who maybe struggle with their mobility. But it is also undeniable that in order to answer these voice commands, a voice assistant has to be able to listen to you. Sound unnerving? Don’t worry, there are ways to control how much is heard by your voice assistant.

Using an Echo listening device (Amazon)

With any Alexa device, there is the option to switch the microphone off completely with the mute button. Your Alexa device will light up red when the microphone is muted and this can be really useful  – even for smaller things, like if you are wanting to avoid any unwanted disruptions during a film. With devices that have a camera such as the Echo Show there is also the option to slide a cover over the camera, which is great if you have the drop-in function enabled but are not wanting anyone to see you at a particular time.

Using other listening devices

Furthermore, any voice assistant will make you aware if they are listening by lighting up or making a chime sound. Alexa for example will only listen to what you are saying when you say the default wake word “Alexa” – this is called keyword spotting. Think of it like a strainer; the Alexa device will allow the words you say to filter through until it hears “Alexa”, at which point it will activate its listening and recording capabilities.

If this isn’t enough, you can also ask Alexa to delete any voice recordings either from a certain time frame, or the entire time you have owned the device. This can be done by asking your Alexa device directly using your voice, online or through the Alexa app. With the Google assistant, you can ask it to enter ‘guest mode’ which means interaction will not be saved at any time, protecting your privacy even further.

Data collection

What about data collection and voice assistants? For a lot of people this has become an increasingly important issue and something that is often at the front of people’s minds, especially when it comes to smart technology – and understandably so. In the summer of 2021, Amazon received a £636m fine from the European Union due to collecting customers’ data unlawfully (Amazon hit with $886m fine for alleged data law breach – BBC News). So to say that companies like Amazon are collecting data for purely benevolent reasons to improve their customers’ experience would be naïve. However, companies like Amazon are so regularly in the limelight that as consumers, we know at least that their procedures and data processes are scrutinised carefully and regularly. This is why we sometimes still use their technology over others that may not receive such frequent review.

On the flip side of this, data collection isn’t all bad- it’s important for the functioning of voice assistants, particularly when it comes to learning and responding to the Scottish accent! By collecting data like the sound of your voice and how you might pronounce certain words, it means that it devices are able to adapt to how you speak and provide you with a more accurate service.

Ultimately we believe that there is a huge benefit to everyday living by using virtual assistants. In order to utilise a voice assistant and for it to work well, our data being collected is going to play a part in that. Whether it is to have a more personalised product, or for our voices to be more easily recognised, it is a decision we have to make when considering using voice assistants. The benefits of voice assistants that we as Care Technologist have seen for those in receipt of care ultimately outweighs concerns around privacy.

Energy efficient tech interventions in the home

Since beginning the latest phase of Care Technologist project, we have been increasingly aware of the current climate in which we are hoping to deliver technology-based care solutions. The idea of bringing more technology into the home at a time when the Cost-of-Living crisis and soaring prices in energy are at the forefront of our minds, can seem problematic at a glance. The Care Tech team have been reflecting on the assistive technology available, and how their use could impact everyday living from this perspective.

We wanted to share what we currently know about existing technology that can be used to assist in care, that can have a neutral or even positive impact on energy consumption.

On this note, we’re glad to say that many of the technology and devices we are using to improve wellbeing and care support have their energy saving and monitoring benefits. So while these gadgets can enhance your day-to-day living, they can also help to keep an eye on the bills.

Smart and timer plugs

Image from Argos website

We often recommend Smart and timer plugs as they benefit many living at home who are less likely to turn on and off their tech due to access or mobility issues. But these gadgets are also saving energy by giving the option to time your devices throughout the day and turning them off-off – not just on standby. You can do this either by voice activation or through the smart hub app which it connects to, via your phone. Using these plugs to control your lights, TV and other consoles can help save money as well as improve independence in your home.

Smart and sensor bulbs

Image from Philips website

Similar to the plug, these bulbs can be controlled using voice activation, your mobile and the Alexa app. Smart bulbs use LED source, rather than halogen, incandescent or fluorescent – all types of bulb that are being phased out due to their energy efficiency rating.  LED lighting saves around 90% in electricity consumption and can last up to 50,000 hours – that’s nearly six years of constant run time.

Sensor control lighting can save up to 50% in energy reduction by operating only when activated by movement.  We’ve found that these can help especially for people living at home who have low vision, and who move around at night.

Curtain and blind movers

Image taken from Amazon site

This gadget allows users to open and draw curtains (there’s also a blinds alternative) using – you guessed it – voice activation, app via phone or timer. We regularly recommend this device as they are great for those living at home who are at risk of falls, reliant on a caregiver to open and close the curtains, or simply want a bit more independence in their day to day life. With the cold weather looming, these devices have the added benefit of enabling you to keep the heat in or the dark out with the click of a button or a voice command.

Voice-activated hubs

Image from John Lewis site

These connecting hubs can be placed across your home to share information, play music and connect with the devices listed above. The echo dot (pictured) enables lights, televisions, curtains and more to be controlled from whichever room you are in. Conveniences like this can keep energy costs low for those who may otherwise be reliant on caregivers or family members to pop round and turn on/off appliances. The cost of running these devices is minimal (we’re talking less than 50p a year) and many enter a ‘Low Power’ mode automatically when idle.

Tablets and other Smart devices

Image taken from Amazon site

Devices such as the Echo Show or Fire Tablet are ideal replacements to computers and laptops, if you are using them for the same tools. Tablets use 70% less power than a laptop, so for casual internet browsers or those who just want to keep up to date with the weather and news on something larger than a phone, this can be a great alternative. Our Care Technologist Jenny did some number crunches on device use and found that those such as the Echo Show 8 use around £1.10 per year (based on current energy prices, October 2022).

Supported Apps

For Smart technology such as smart bulbs, plugs and devices connected to a hub inside your home, there’s a mobile app that comes with it. Out and about, this can come in handy to keep energy costs down.  Realise you’ve left the lights on? Don’t worry – you can switch them off from your pocket with the Alexa app.

We’re always looking for technology that can assist people to live well, independently, and fully. It’s even better when the tech can assist in keeping bills down. If you’re interested in learning more about the Care Technologist project, or want to let us know about gadgets we should be adding to this list, get in touch through our site page.