Innovate to Rehabilitate!

March 23, 2017

Caring for clients with various forms and levels of dementia and cognitive decline can be difficult to say the least! With so many agencies touting statistics that point toward an explosive growth in the aging population, it is easy to foresee how our need to care for an increasingly declining population will grow exponentially in the near future as well. Similarly, our history and experience has taught us that traditional interventions rarely garner the outcomes we seek when treating those with dementia. So what else can we try? What if existing technology is a solution?

Technology is all around us and often focused on making our lives easier and more efficient. From automated coffee makers, to powerful computers we call “phones” in our pockets to self-driving cars, we’re constantly innovating in our use of technology. But what if we deploy some available technology for the specific needs of the senior adult in mind? Can’t we leverage technology based tools with different methods and approaches that can be used to reach this clientele in new and creative ways?

At first glance, it may seem that using technology and computers for such a purpose may be counter-intuitive. It’s a fair question, “How can someone with Alzheimer’s, or any other various form of dementia and cognitive decline, benefit from working with a computer and other forms of technology?” Fortunately recent research, along with the vast experiences of caregivers and facility staff from around the country, can show that computers are a powerful tool when deployed correctly. While enterprise based tech platforms (billing, EHR, documentation, etc.) have been common place for years, and may streamline work for employees, they really are not intended for the patient populations and rarely elicit any reaction from staff. Alternatively, embracing clinical and/or engagement technology that is fun to use for patients and staff alike may also have the added benefit of improving staff and family satisfaction with both factors acting to support census and staffing stability.

From both a rehabilitation and wellness perspective, technology allows us to reach people at their level in that moment by quickly and efficiently moving through person centered content until we find something that resonates with each individual. For one person it might simply mean using Google Earth to explore an old homestead while working 1:1 with a speech therapist on a cognitive challenge. For someone who is agitated or upset at that moment, it might take a calming video that portrays their life experiences and the sounds of life on a farm to soothe their angst. As such, by focusing efforts toward someone’s long-term memories, we can often reach them on a deeper level in hopes that it can make things like an ADL session go more smoothly. For someone at higher levels it could mean an exciting PT session with a high-tech motion-sensor balance game that drives their motivation and abilities toward greater clinical outcomes!

Activities and life enrichment can also benefit from this vast world of engaging content and technology. Whether it’s reading their home-town newspaper in one’s native language, or exploring music, videos and travel experiences; technology can be leveraged to open hearts and challenge minds! Regardless of the caregivers’ discipline, the hope is to facilitate higher levels of progress and improved clinical outcomes by providing technological tools that could make the job of caring for such a challenging population easier and more fun!

Often, the best outcomes seem to derive from those providers who not only embrace new technologies but who also support staff with training to go along with the new tools. Similarly, when it comes to a younger workforce, new employees are likely to bring a solid technological skill set along with an expectation that employers are willing to leverage modern tools for them to use with patients and families. With such a competitive employment landscape, employers know that finding and retaining quality staff must often go beyond salary and benefit packages. In order to attract and keep staff, employers might consider such person centered technologically based systems with the hopes that doing so not only makes providing care for those with dementia more effective, but also bolsters employee satisfaction as well.

In the end we all know that providing services to those with dementia and cognitive decline will rarely come easy. Although we know traditional methods haven’t always given us the intended results we also know that technology is not a silver bullet in and of itself! The technology is still just a tool and as such, it often takes open minded, creative and educated caregivers to match the right approach with the right tools specifically deployed for each individual. When we find that surprisingly easy to achieve blend, the effects and outcomes can be profound as we leverage the technology all around us to innovate as we rehabilitate!