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Technology for dementia care needs more innovation in 2016

With so much digital health talent and money in Silicon Valley, little aims at dementia.  Is it because the consumer doesn’t complain enough in surveys? Let’s face it, most tech for dementia care is stunningly rudimentary, consisting of (at best) warn staff and lock doors, cameras to watch for wandering, and if the residents are lucky enough – engagement technologies (like SingFit or iNTL) that may be deployed or are at least being considered. If there are 2.5 million people in the US living in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living, more than 50% of them have some dementia. (My guess – it is much higher than that.)  The rest of the 5.3 million who have some sort of dementia are still living at home.

So what have we got today for dementia care? Institutional wander management. We have the ‘Wander’ management technologies that alert staff about a door opening.  We have a collection of ‘locate the lost’ technologies – where the first item in a search is ‘find my iPhone’.  After finding iPhones, lost pets and finding children, particularly those with autism, those with dementia next on the list – note that there are fewer children with autism in the US than adults with dementia. But I digress. There are GPS inner soles for shoes -- and various PERS offerings support geo-fencing.

What should we have? So many base technologies are there – but some assembly is required. Innovation in the high growth segment of senior housing for memory care units today seems to be focused on walking paths, color coding, dining programs, and a full calendar of (maybe conducted) activities. And the Alzheimer’s Store product list is just that – the list as it has been for years. Where is the company that imagines and markets a suite of technologies to address more than a single facet of memory care? Why, with all of the startups focused on 'social good – do you see dementia care solutions that could be used by family caregivers, home care workers, social services organizations, adult day organizations, senior living companies, or skilled nursing facilities?

What’s in the yet-to-be-developed tech suite for home (care) or senior communities? In a virtual tech box for consumers, let’s imagine a personalized tablet (and table top stand) that asks a few questions and automatically loads pictures from a designated caregiver's smartphone about the family. Let’s imagine that this tablet has a matching proximity beacon associated with it, so that when a person with dementia approaches, the tablet wakes up and shows the video or music that a caregiver has identified as most important. Let’s imagine that in a group setting, the tablet is really a surface table or a large touch screen on a wall; imagine that tiny beacon devices are issued on move-in (perhaps part of identity bracelets).

Let’s imagine that this innovation for senior living tech also applies to new age home care.  Much has been said about the tech-enabled future of dementia care. Let’s imagine that the potential has been realized. Now moving into senior living memory care offers a get-acquainted tech experience and that getting hired to work in senior living has its own tech orientation for care management, care delivery, and resident tech. Now let’s go further -- imagine that the new companies focused on improving in-home care find the technology solutions developed for senior living to also be compelling for home care.  With the $100 million of investment money tossed around to just three companies, that’s not so hard to imagine, is it?


The day will come when providers will realize that they can never deliver the best possible care to a person with dementia if they don't deeply KNOW them.  Listen to the ads for senior living and even hospitals....we tailor our solutions to your loved one's needs....we individualize care...etc.  For the 100 organizations we work with, they have a technology solution that actually helps them build the key knowledge that they need (that doesn't get buried in some file cabinet or inside the EHR).  If someone has lived 70+ years, there is a LOT that must be known. We think we're fulfilling one area that can truly help both the person with dementia and the caregiving team around him/her.  The next step of the development will involve more abilities for family members to share further, videos, stories, etc.  Our focus is on seniors and especially people with dementia...who need us MOST. --Beth Sanders, Founder & CEO,