In the novel and film Still Alice, a Harvard linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD) relies on her Blackberry to remember appointments — a prompt many of us may need in these information-laden times, regardless of the condition of our personal RAM (random access memory).
Alice also writes herself a letter on her computer that contains key brain health information, such as the number of children she has and her eldest daughter’s birthday, with instructions to her future self: when she is unable to answer all the questions correctly, she will no longer be of sound mind. The question is, will she know when her answers aren’t accurate?
The National Institute on Aging provides a comprehensive resource list for those living with and/or caring for someone with EOAD.
Now we’re poised to be able to “back up” our grey matter the same way we do our devices — or even implant a new “hard drive” when the existing one falters. It’s just one of many innovations that are transforming memory care in the third millennium.
7 Innovations to Brighten, Boost, And Re-implant Our Brains
1. Backing Up Memories.
A Samsung app helps Alzheimer’s patients stave off this unsettling shift. Backup Memory acts as a memory stimulator for people who are exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. “Recent studies have shown that mental stimulation in the form of regular reminders of past events could potentially slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Azer Jaafoura, one of the product’s developers.
The app “helps patients become aware of their immediate surroundings by identifying nearby family members and friends, and also reminds patients about their relationship with each person and memories they’ve shared in the past through photographs and videos.”
2. Implanting Memories.
What if the memory itself could be implanted? Swiss scientists are researching how brain plasticity might one day lead to the ability to change the way we remember events. While the research is initially focusing on helping to erase or replace traumatic memories, the work carries the implicit possibility for those whose memories are fading with time.
And neuro-optometric rehabilitation (redirecting cognitive pathways through visual adaptation), which has proven successful with traumatic brain injuries such as concussions — where other treatments did little more than provide temporary symptom relief — may hold out promise for Alzheimer’s patients as well.
3. Knowing the Memory Loss Mimics.
It’s also important to be aware that what looks like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia may not be memory loss at all, but a TBI (traumatic brain injury). As DePaul University professor Clark Elliott explores in his eight-year odyssey with TBI, The Ghost in My Brain, a concussion can cause symptoms that masquerade as dementia due to cognitive processing problems.
Elliott devised a brain assessment self-test that mirrors that of the fictional Alice: he would ask himself, “What are the names of my children?” and gauge his brain’s functionality for the day based on how long it took him to answer: anywhere from six seconds on good days to more than three minutes on “bad brain days.” So if your loved one has fallen and hit their head, a medical assessment can confirm they aren’t suffering from a TBI, especially if you or they fear they may be developing dementia.
4. Smart Homes for Seniors, Not Millennials.
Swedish designer Kevin Gaunt thinks smart home technology ought to target seniors rather than Millennials. And his vision focuses on mental health rather than thermostat controls since one of the great challenges many seniors face is boredom, which can lead to mental decline.
Gaunt imagines the smart home of the future as having “the equivalent of a fuse box full of bots, each of which is denoted by simple symbols (a stack of coins for banking, or a bag for shopping) and can link their functionality together to battle boredom in the elderly.”
His vision also includes a bit of rascalry, as this short video demonstrates: a shopping bot orders the senior client a skateboard in lieu of flowers, a socializer bot alerts her when a pesky neighbor is about to ring the bell, and, perhaps most poignantly, the personality bot mimics the bad puns her departed husband used to make.
5. Mental Monitor.
With someone in the U.S. developing dementia every 66 seconds, how do you know if, or when, an older loved one is becoming cognitively impaired? MyndYou knows.
MyndYou is a mobile platform that monitors cognitive, physiological and behavioral metrics to provide dementia insights. Its algorithm leverages data from sensors to detect changes, and conveys their implications, along with recommended actions and therapies, to family members and designated medical professionals.
Because MyndYou allows families to make decisions based on objective information, it can improve quality of life for all involved — and give everyone a better sense of when it’s appropriate for a loved one to move from assisted living into The Kensington’s memory care neighborhood.
6. Dementia Directive.
Most people are familiar with an advance directive, also known as a living will, that will inform family members and health care professionals about your wishes in the event you cannot speak for yourself. But there’s an even more vital document when it comes to memory care: a dementia directive.
Even with an advance directive, a senior may not be appropriately covered if they develop dementia. A dementia directive focuses on the types of care choices someone would likely want if they were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of cognitive decline. It is important to complete a dementia directive well in advance, as by the time a family member or the senior themselves realizes it would be useful, they are likely to have lost the capacity to make these decisions.
You can download a dementia directive from the University of Washington here.
End of Life Choices New York offers another type of Alzheimer’s Directive here.
7. Virtual Pet Companions.
What if a senior loves pets but is no longer able to care for a live one? GeriJoy may be the solution: virtual care companions, akin to tech teddy bears for older adults who require assistance.
GeriJoy is a little like Siri, except the animal avatars are animated by remote humans — trained caregivers who help monitor a senior from afar. Bonuses: these “pets” are always clean, well behaved, never need to be walked, and speak English instead of “Meow” or “Woof”!
Here at The Kensington Sierra Madre, we’re also delighted to have Kensey on “staff”: our resident Shih Tzu who was selected and specifically trained to support our senior residents with lots of love and joy. His agreeable nature and emotive face amuses, comforts and often, entertains, lifting spirits and promote interaction. Our senior residents feel needed and comforted with Kensey in their corner (and on their lap!).
Memory Care from the Inside Out
At The Kensington Sierra Madre, supportive, loving memory care is the heart and soul of what we do, capitalizing on resident strengths and helping residents and families find ways to enjoy the beauty of the moment. We honor the past, savor the present and look toward making future days manageable, comfortable and ultimately, peaceful.
We invite you to learn more about our unique memory care neighborhoods, and how our exceptional care can make your loved one’s life here meaningful and secure.