Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Dementia care – it’s 4:00 and what’s happening? In a nearby memory care unit in an Assisted Living community, the movie has ended, the credits rolled. Next up – visitors hear loud yelling and observe a staff member separating and redirecting an able-bodied resident. Count the number of residents in wheelchairs -- nearly half of the unit -- awaiting some physical care before dinner. These residents seem ever-more frail -- likely because they are delaying move-in until the need is urgent. Often it appears that staff is supplemented with home health or companion services -- note that these providers are assigned to individual residents, not the group -- just like the resident-specific role played by visiting hospice workers. It may appear that there are many staffers around, but minus the one-on-one folks, there aren't enough staffers to keep everyone else occupied. Now consider the dependency on staff to engage these otherwise-bored and idle residents. Soon it will be dinner time and the activities person will have left for the day. Staff members (who earn a national average of $11.10/hour) get busy with ADL-related chores before/after meals and before bed.
After the group activity – what’s left? With the puzzles are put away, the movie done, the staff is busy, now what’s for residents to do? A visitor stops by to show a resident a tablet-based slide show of cats and a Youtube video about kittens. This is also mesmerizing to staff members. Of course, if there was an actual animal present, even a horse, that would be even better – but most dementia care units, probably wisely, do not have cats, dogs or, as in that video, the space for a horse. Visiting family members can offer distractions and interest, but when they’ve left, why couldn't there be something else (besides TV) as well? This is where smart tables and walls would be intriguing additions to physical space.
Smart surfaces are yesterday's news for a limitless number of applications. Soon touch screen interactive maps for travelers will be placed everywhere, meaning that the barrier to entry with this technology is low and moving lower. Already demonstrating smart tables a few years ago, now called PixelSense, Microsoft recently patented smart walls. One presumes numerous commercial uses for interactive walls and tables (see the Chili's example), but what couldn't you do with these approaches in dementia care? Look at the large screen version of the IN2L system, in the process of being deployed in dementia care units nationwide by Brookdale. Watch a few more demonstrations of the role that tech can have in dementia care. Watch someone touch a picture of a therapy game – and see how the resident engages. Now picture smart tables in dementia care units, linking to video and still pictures residents can select, see, touch -- versus wander around and get into spats with other residents.
Transforming the lunch table and the hallway wall. Picture a resident sitting at a smart table waiting for the next activity: they look at the table where they are seated and touch their own face. The table fills with pre-loaded photos from their life -- collected and scanned on move-in day. Or even easier, no scanning required, the resident’s picture links to a location shown (perhaps via Google Earth) of the city they wish they could visit or the town where they grew up? With tablets providing all of this today navigated in a browser at the swipe of a finger, the barrier is the need for a person to guide. But it is possible to envision the tablet becoming a table, the browser writ large, now just touch your picture to begin. So what company will create and demonstrate a dementia unit smart table or wall at ALFA or Leading Age next year? Or has someone has already done this project and applied it to dementia care? Please advise.