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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds I think there’s a difficulty at the moment in that we have what we call a cohort effect of people who are older that most people with dementia in the 70’s and 80’s, they’ve grown up in their lives. – they’ve lived through a period without the kind of technologies we’re familiar with. So we’re used to now being able to put our hands under a tap and the tap comes on. Or we’re used to being in the supermarket and it’s speaking to us and saying that horrible thing about you’ve left something in the bagging area or something. So we’re used to the technology doing these things. But older people aren’t.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds So I think we’ve kind of run ahead, as it were, in developing some potentially very good assistive technologies. But I think it’s difficult for some older people to understand them. Not because of their dementia. Just because they’re not familiar with being able to touch screens, and things happen, and so on. They’ve grown up in a generation without that. So I think some of the assistive technologies that can be used in the kitchen, for example, to remind people they’ve left an oven on, or the kettle, or whatever, that those, for that generation, are difficult, because they’re not used to hearing these machines talking.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds I think for younger people, as we grow older and people are familiar with these technologies, then it’ll be easier. And they’ll be able to be a benefit to us, because we’re used to this kind of experience. And I guess that’s something that we need more research on, we need to look more closely at. And it seems to be an area where co-developing that with people with dementia and their families is a really good idea. Just a little bit more about the new technologies that are coming through. For example, not everybody lives in the same town or city as perhaps their mum or dad, or relative or friend who has dementia.

Skip to 2 minutes and 6 seconds And so all sorts of communication technologies like Skype are now very, very common. For some people with dementia, I guess that will work. But for others, perhaps especially with dementia with Lewy bodies, not quite understanding that technology is going to be a real barrier. Or possibly a real help. What are your thoughts on that? Well it’s well recognised that not just with people with dementia with Lewy bodies, but with other people with dementia, that they could look at a screen– classically, historically it was a television screen– and they would get confused about whether the person on the screen was with them in the room. Or actually, they’re just on the television, as it were. So I remember seeing a patient.

Skip to 2 minutes and 54 seconds And she was really pleased, because she was telling me how the Queen had come to visit her that day and clearly wasn’t aware that she’d just been seeing the Queen on the television. Now of course, we have many more ways of people seeing things on laptops, and iPads, and so on. And I think, again, for older people of the generation in their 70’s and 80’s, these remain difficult to comprehend. For those growing up now into older age, who’ve been using their smartphones and so on, I think they will be able to adapt and perhaps won’t have some of those same kinds of experiences that are distressing for them sometimes. With that woman, it wasn’t distressing.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds But often it is distressing because of what they see in the television and they think it’s real and happening to them in their life, and can’t recognise that it isn’t. It’s just on the television. And some carers said to us that while they feel that say a Skype call has got great benefit for them in reassuring them that the person is OK, they do have concerns that when that connection shuts, they’re then worried about the longer-term effect that it will have on the person if they’re a little bit confused as to why the person isn’t there still. And I guess that’s something that needs more research. It’s very difficult. My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with that.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 seconds And he just couldn’t comprehend the Skype at all. He couldn’t get to grips with the fact that it was a Skype to his granddaughter. And he couldn’t understand that she wasn’t even in the country. And it was quite distressing for him actually. So on the surface, it’s a great way to connect people. But for the challenges of dementia means that I think we’ve got more work to do in developing new innovations in this area. Yes, I think so. I hope, as I say, that some of it is a cohort effect. So it’ll get better as people who are used to these technologies grow older. But yes, I’m sure you’re right.

Skip to 5 minutes and 4 seconds Some of it is due to the confusion of dementia itself, and it’s learning how to handle that with them.

Everyday technologies: a view from Professor Alan Thomas

In this video, Professor Alan Thomas tells us why the technologies we use as part of daily life may be more challenging for someone with dementia.

People with dementia can develop symptoms which:

  • Reduce physical coordination (so operating equipment and technologies such as mobile phones can be more difficult)

  • Alter sense perception (reducing the benefit of technologies that rely on audio, visual or touch perception)

Technologies that people are familiar with and use in daily life, such as telephones or ATM cash machines may not be adapted to meet the specific requirement of people living with dementia. They may become less suitable or usable as cognitive and physical symptoms advance. Similarly, technologies that simulate real presence, such as television, Skype and telephones can become frightening.

Designing for dementia

Even when technologies have been specifically designed for use by people with dementia, there are still challenges. Technologies with a human voice, or touch-screens, for example, may not be familiar to older generations. People living with dementia will have difficulty learning new processes, and so people may be reluctant to try out new devices or different ways of interacting, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

In the future, generations who have grown up using a variety of communication channels, such as social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and so on will find these forms a little easier. So the ‘cohort’ effect that Alan talks about may reduce over time. But we may still need solutions that help us to overcome some of the barriers that may remain.

So using technologies to improve communication is not easy, but work is being done to overcome some of the challenges.

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