In a recent article, we discussed direct therapy interventions to help stave off memory, cognitive and speech concerns associated with the early and mid-stages of dementia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) dementia is a global public health priority and has significant social and economic implications in terms of direct medical and social care costs, and the costs of informal care. In 2015, the total global societal cost of dementia was estimated to be US$ 818 billion, equivalent to 1.1% of global gross domestic product (GDP). With 7.7 million new cases identified each year, they estimate 65.7 million people expected to have the condition by 2030.

Beyond direct intervention, there are several adaptive and environmental opportunities that we can take advantage of to prolong the quality of life.  Since the list below is not exhaustive and there are several other things available, the role of this article is to begin the dialogue.

External memory aids and Assistive technology: External memory aids are aimed at helping individuals with memory problems in their day-to-day activities. In fact, we use them every day and as technology increases, so does our dependence.  (When was the last time you remembered a phone number).  Smartphones and watches keep us on time and in touch with the world and with just a few words “Hey Siri/Alexa/Google” we can ask a device with a modicum of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to remind us to do something or be somewhere.

With a good internet connection, these devices can be used by family members and caregivers. People with mild dementia are reminded to take their medications or even eat.  Some devices are already in use making environmental controls easier off-site such as controlling lights and heating or air conditioning. As they advance and get smarter, they may help us do more.  It is possible that these devices can check important safety features such as the stove temperature and ensure that the water hasn’t been left on. These measures will prolong a person’s independence.

Environmental modifications: Environmental modifications are changes or adaptations to the environment to improve communication skills in individuals with dementia. As speech language pathologists, we work closely with our physical and occupational therapy colleagues to assess the environment.  The idea is to make modifications that are aimed to optimize the cognitive, visual, and auditory aspects of the environment.

This may include improving lighting, reducing glare, and reducing visual and auditory clutter.  The use of signs and simple graphics may be implemented to increase safety awareness and/or orientation (Brush, Sanford, Fleder, Bruce, & Calkins, 2011).

Again, this is just a jumping-off point, a platform to start the conversation not end it.  As we all age, the thoughts and fears of dementia and memory loss become more prevalent.  Research brings new possibilities each day and it is important to stay current and elastic in how we treat individuals.

Let’s keep the conversation going.  I’d love for you to share your experience. Please use the comment box below.

Footnotes: World Health Organization. Dementia: A Public Health Priority. World Health Organization, Geneva; 2012 Brush, Jennifer & Sanford, Jon & Fleder, Hannah & Bruce, Carrie & Calkins, Margaret. (2011). Evaluating and Modifying the Communication Environment for People With Dementia. Perspectives on Gerontology. 16. 32. 10.1044/gero16.2.32.