Sunday, 22nd October 2017
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This is the seventh article in our "Focus on Dementia" series and this week we look at how to use assistive technology to help support and enable people with dementia to live more independently. Here's what you need to know

What is dementia?

Dementia is caused by a number of diseases that damage the nerve cells in the brain. Common symptoms may include difficulties with thinking and language, problem-solving and carrying out everyday tasks, as well as issues with memory loss and changes in mood and behaviour.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology can help support and enable people with dementia to live more independently. There are many different technologies and devices, such as calendar clocks and easy-to-use phones, that can help people to continue to carry out everyday tasks and to stay safe.

Prompts and reminders

There is a range of devices and systems that can act as memory prompts by providing visual, verbal or audible reminders that people can use to keep track of the day or time. Examples include clocks and calendar clocks that provide information about the day, date and time, as well as signs and notice boards that can be used as reminders and to post messages.

Keeping in touch

People with dementia may have difficulties using phones as they may not remember phone numbers or the name of the person whom they wish to contact. To help overcome these problems, there are specially-designed telephones that are easy to use with large numbers and that are pre-programmable with frequently-called phone numbers. Some of the phones also come with clear buttons where photos of loved ones can be placed so that they can be called with ease.

Hobbies and recreation

Generally, there is no reason why a person with dementia can’t continue with their favourite hobbies and recreational pursuits. Games and activities can be adapted or simplified to enhance accessibility – for example, large-piece adult jigsaws can be purchased that are easier to pick up and place while maintaining an adult level of challenge, or large-print activity books can be used where sentences are clear, concise and easy-to-read. Another example is simplified remote controls that can assist a person with dementia to continue to watch the TV programmes they enjoy.

Safety at home

For a person with dementia, the home can sometimes pose safety risks. Some simple adaptations can make it safer for everyone. For example, some devices monitor the home environment and can detect gas, carbon monoxide, smoke or flooding. Other devices monitor the activities of the person and can detect when someone is getting out of a bed or a chair, entering/leaving a room or building, or when they have had a fall. Bear in mind that dementia is progressive and it’s important to reassess your home and physical surroundings regularly.

Making assistive technology work for you

Assistive technology will not work in isolation but it can be included as part of a plan to help a person live well with dementia. Some assistive technology products are simple and straight-forward to use while others are complicated, so it is important to speak to a health or social care professional, such as an occupational therapist, who can highlight the benefits and limitations of different products and identify the best assistive technology options to suit.

Where to find out more

Currently there are three assistive technology libraries located in Dublin, Cork and Tipperary, with plans for up to five more in 2018. These libraries offer devices on loan so they can be tried out. Further details of these libraries can be found at http://www.understandtogether.ie or by calling Freephone 1800 341 341.

If you want to purchase a device, Assist Ireland provides a directory of products from Irish suppliers at http://www.assistireland.ie, while the UK-based AT Dementia delivers many products to Ireland and has an online guide that will help to identify an item that may help with a specific need – see http://www.atdementia.org.uk.

This feature is the seventh in a series of "Dementia: Understand Together" articles. Next week we look at using assistive technology to help support and enable people with dementia to live more independently. For more information, Freephone 1800 341 341 or visit http://www.understandtogether.ie

"Focus on Dementia" is an initiative of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign.

Dementia: Understand Together is a public support, awareness and information campaign. It aims to inspire people from all sections of society to stand together with the 500,000 Irish people whose families have been affected by dementia.

The campaign is led by the HSE, working with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio, and supported by Waterford Today.

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