By Mike McGrath
At the July General Meeting, Ed Fitzgerald, digital marketing and technology consultant to small businesses, provided an extremely interesting and thought provoking presentation on “Using an iPad to Reach a Person Living with Dementia”.
Ed’s wife, Diane, was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) at age 63, and is now in assisted living. FTD is early onset dementia that produces “gradual, and progressive decline in behavior, personality change, which can include aggressive behaviors and/or loss of language”, generally starting in the early 50s.
Ed’s goals were simple: find a way to engage Diane in activities so that they could enjoy their time together, stimulate her mind, elicit a response from her, get her to smile, laugh, bring her out of her “Dementia shell” and to “create moments of joy”1.
Ed’s question: “how could I use technology to help her?”
As a “computer person”, Ed turned to his desktop to help his wife in the early stages of her disease, primarily using Skype while he was at work so that he could keep in contact with Diane during the day. As the disease progressed, the desktop approach just didn’t work, as Diane, who did use a computer in her work but was not a “computer person”, did not have interest in computers.
Ed previously had nothing to do with an iPad and had not considered that technology as a device that might help his wife, until a client brought an iPad to him, asking for help using it. Once Ed realized its ease of use (just touch the screen and make things happen), he started to research the iPad’s use with people suffering from Dementia. Through Google he found sites (care facilities) that were using the iPad with people afflicted with Dementia. These care facilities were having good and rewarding experiences with Dementia patients by using certain apps. Interestingly, all the sites were in the UK; nothing was found in the US. From his research he found five or six apps that had been helpful for others with conditions similar to Diane’s. From these starting apps he built a “home page” on the iPad.
The important detail, Ed discovered, was that the apps needed to be of interest to Diane; this was crucial. You can’t hand an iPad to an individual with Dementia and expect that they will just use it. You need to identify apps that have interest from past experience or activities that may stimulate the individual. Apps such as flower garden, music, photos, old TV shows, drawing apps, colors, pottery, baking cup cakes, travel sites, etc. Apps that had a connection with Diane’s life prior to the onset of Dementia were essential.
Ed used the iPad himself as Diane watched, generating interest in her. She would then, over time, start to engage with the iPad herself. This produced a connection that would bring Diane out of her “Dementia shell”, stimulating laughter, smiles and JOY!1
Further, Ed was able to use the photo app to take pictures, which Diane with Ed’s help could send to her grandchildren and other relatives, enabling a means of back and forth communication with others at a distance. Also, Skype was useful in Diane’s communication—although she could not speak she was positively stimulated by the voices of those she remembered. Other family members became engaged with Diane through interaction with the iPad, particularly her grandchildren.
Ed describes a process that stimulates not only the person with Dementia but also the caregiver and family who are interacting with that person. As the visiting process in situations like this can be stressful and very sad for the family, use of the iPad provides a positive point of contact that engages not only the patient but also the caregiver and family. This interaction results in a positive experience, transforming what could have been a stressful interaction into one of true physical and emotional sharing. Instead of being put off and not wanting to visit in the future, the experience brings the family together. This causes a truly remarkable and rewarding effect that encompasses not only the whole family but also the caregivers and other residents of the assisted living site as they become involved as well.
Ed stressed that this is a slow process which requires patience and perseverance, but it is worth the time and effort—a truly rewarding experience for all involved. The individual with Dementia may or may not be able to effectively use the iPad but their interaction with a family member or caregiver using the iPad for them provides the spark that activates positive responses, resulting in moments of Joy1, smiles, laughter and breaking through the “Dementia shell”.
Although the Apple iPad was the device that Ed used, he did mention that other tablet devices could be used, provided the apps were available for those devices. Ed provided detail on how the various apps worked and how they stimulated Diane.
Apps are described with links on Ed’s web site: techforcaregiving.com
Other information: Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration
1 Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, Jolene Brackey, (Available on Amazon).