Dementia: a pressing global health challenge
Dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – that leads to deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological ageing(1). It affects memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities.
There are an estimated 57.4 million people living with dementia around the globe. It is predicted that this number will rise to 152.8 million by 2050(2).
Impact of dementia
Dementia has physical, psychological, social and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia, but also for their carers, families and society at large. Dementia cost the UK economy about £35 billion in 2019 – more than cancer and heart disease combined(3). Two thirds of the cost of dementia is paid by people with dementia and their families, with unpaid carers providing a high proportion of that care(2). For example, in the UK, there are more than 700,000 unpaid carers of people with dementia. Many of these are women, who are more likely to take on unpaid dementia caring roles and are 2.5 times more likely than men to provide intensive, 24-hour care(3).
New solutions are urgently needed to improve the delivery of high-quality, efficient and cost-effective care for people with dementia.
Current dementia treatment options
There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are some pharmaceutical treatments that aim to temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life. While new medicinal treatments are being developed with increasing speed, they are not coming quickly enough for people affected by dementia now.
Non-drug approaches can help to manage behaviour symptoms and promote physical and emotional wellbeing. Steps to develop successful non-drug treatments include: recognising that behavioural and personality changes are symptoms of the disease and not intentional; trying to understand the cause of symptoms and how they affect the experience of the person with dementia; and changing the environment to resolve challenges and improve comfort, security and peace of mind(4).
Technology as a tool for dementia care
Technology offers a potentially simple way to improve quality of life and wellbeing for those living with dementia and their carers. Communication tools can help people with dementia to connect to family, friends and caregivers, and provide an easy way to check in with them throughout the day. Photo display devices can help to create a comforting, familiar environment, especially for those living in residential care. Viewing photos of family members can be used as a therapy to reduce agitation and promote relaxation for those suffering from dementia(5).
Technology can also be used to help combat specific outcomes of forgetfulness and memory loss. For example, people with dementia may forget that they have already eaten a meal and eat twice, or they may forget to eat at all(6). Similarly, people who are on medication may forget to take their pills, or take them too many times, which can have serious health consequences(7). Using digital calendars can help people with dementia to remember upcoming events, daily activities and medication schedules(5).
Tailoring technology for people with dementia
However, many existing technologies are unsuitable for elderly people with dementia. Research has shown that 2.95 million people in the UK over 65 have subjective cognitive decline, which is a major barrier to seniors' use of devices. Studies have shown that 45% of seniors experience difficulty using an iPad due to cognitive limitations, and less than 50% of seniors with dementia manage to use technology independently(8).
When designing technology for people with dementia, it is crucial that barriers like these are taken into account. For technology to be truly inclusive it must be designed around the needs and limitations of its user group. People with dementia require simple devices that are easy and intuitive to operate.
- Son of a Komp user
Sometime brilliance is in the simplicity with which complex problems are solved.
Introducing Komp for dementia care
Based on these observations we created Komp, an age-friendly assistive technology that is simpler to use than any tablet or smartphone. It is operated via one button that resembles an old-fashioned television, giving it a familiar feel to the older generation.
Komp is used to receive video calls from family members and care givers, view photos and messages from loved ones, and receive appointment reminders from carers. The picture sharing feature on Komp is particularly helpful for people with memory loss to help fill their day with positive memories from the past. It also has a clock with day and night settings, which can help people with dementia to orient their day.
Crucially, Komp enables users to stay connected with loved ones and maintain a sense of independence.
Komp success stories
Komp is used successfully by several organisations to improve care for patients with memory loss, including Dorset Council OT service, Orkney Islands Council, Age UK and NHS Western Isles. For example, the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is using Komp in its pre-dementia service to deliver remote video consultations, perform health assessments and send reminders to patients.
An ongoing study by Oslo Metropolitan University is analysing the impact of Komp in 19 public nursing homes in Norway. Initial results suggest that, overall, Komp is helping to improve quality of life for residents, increase contact with relatives and inspire dialogue between residents and staff. Some relatives and staff members have reported that residents with memory challenges, who may not remember that they just had a pleasant conversation, still retained some peace of mind and a good feeling after a video call using Komp. Many families in the study are using Komp as a memory book to share pictures of things the resident remembers well or is interested in.
Future-proofing dementia care
As health and social care services increasingly shift towards digitalisation, it is important that groups with specific needs, such as people with dementia, are not left behind. There is a growing need for user-friendly devices designed specifically for people with memory loss. By providing a simple method of communication, age-friendly assistive technologies such as Komp could help people with dementia to live independently at home for longer.
Interested to find out more about using Komp for dementia care services? Get in touch today.
- Son of a Komp user
My dad entered a memory care facility in February. Before, I could only speak to my dad when other family members were around. Since getting Komp, I can now "see" my dad and speak to him on average three times a day! It is a total game changer for my family. For anyone that needs the easiest way to communicate - it is perfection.