Memory Aids for Dementia

Can technology help people with memory problems and their carers?

As we get older, we may find ourselves forgetting things more frequently. People living with dementia and their carers know better than anyone how distressing this can be. However there are ways to help people with dementia retain their independence, enabling them to continue to live at home for as long as possible – including assistive technology.

‘Assistive technology’ means technological developments which have been produced especially to ensure that day-to-day life is as safe as possible for someone living with dementia. It isn't a replacement for human contact but aims to help people with dementia to continue to perform daily tasks such as cooking without the hazard of, for example, leaving the gas on. Safely carrying out such daily tasks would allow a person with memory problems to retain more of their independence. Here are examples of assistive technology aids which have been recommended by the Alzheimer's Society:

Automatic calendar clocks- these remind the user of the correct date and time. They differentiate between morning, day and evening to prevent confusion for the person with dementia (which is especially useful when it gets dark early in the winter).

Medication aids- Dosette boxes are pill holders which have compartments for the day of the week and the time of the day, helping the user to take their medication at the right time. Automatic pill dispensers beep and dispense the pill at the set time for it to be taken.

Reminder messages- these are recorded personal voice prompts (which can be a familiar voice e.g. a family member’s) to remind the person with dementia of their daily appointments, or to take their keys with them before they leave home, for example.

Reminiscence and leisure aids- this refers to digital software such as Book of You, a reminiscence tool created specifically to help those with memory problems and their carers to communicate and interact. Digital software like this enables life stories to be built interactively, using words, pictures, music and film - to help show who a person was and who they are now. They aim to improve the quality of life for dementia sufferers, promoting conversation, recollections of the past, and very importantly, fun.

Wristband personal alarms- these easy-to-wear wristbands are fitted with a ‘panic’ button which alerts an appropriate carer when pressed, while tracking the location and address of the person wearing the wristband. Wristband users may therefore feel confident enough to be unaccompanied when away from home despite their memory problems.

There are also sensors, for example:

  1. gas sensors automatically shut off the gas in case the person with dementia forgets to do so
  2. tap turners automatically stop the tap from running if left on for a period of time, for example Nova-Flo 

A 2011 systematic review reported “The research to date underscores the potential of external aids to improve the daily functioning of people with memory impairments” - although it did note that more research was needed into how to encourage more people to use these aids. A BBC news item in 2010 showed how this approach helped one particular dementia sufferer.    

A 2013 review found that electronic memory aids which provided verbal instruction produced positive outcomes for people with dementia. And case studies of assistive technology helping people whose dementia was causing different problems were included in a Scandinavian study.

However, a 2015 review suggested that there were still gaps in provision. For example, it reported few devices available yet to help with behavioural issues like aggression or to support recreational activities.  

Assistive technology for carers: 

The Alzheimers Society estimates there are over 670,000 people in the UK caring for someone with dementia. Assistive technology can help carers to ensure that they do not become overwhelmed with the task of caring for their loved one. 

Where can I get hold of memory aids? 

Health or social services may provide funding in some cases for purchasing equipment such as assistive technology memory aids. To find out more contact your local community mental health team where a social worker, occupational therapist or dementia advisor can make an assessment of your eligibility and advise you on what is available. 

Where funding is not available, memory aids may be purchased or hired privately from local shops, pharmacies, online services or superstores. For example WHICH?,  AT Dementia and Disabled Living Foundation advise how and where to purchase such equipment. 

Things to consider when buying: 

  • Ask for the memory aid to be demonstrated before purchasing. Is it easy to use?
  • Check things like battery life, and whether the memory aid will need servicing regularly.
  • Ask how safe the device is.
  • Do you need this memory aid for long or short-term usage? Consider hiring instead of purchasing for short-term usage if this would save money. 

The Alzheimer's Society recommends you consider the following when using memory aids: 

  1. Aids which may work for one person with dementia may not work for another. Remember to keep the use of aids person-centred. Tailor it to the needs and interests of the specific person with dementia rather than taking a one size fits all approach . Involving the person with dementia in the decisions about which memory aids to use can help with this.
  2. Technological aids are effective when used as a complementary tool alongside good care, not as a replacement for good person-centred care.
  3. Memory aids which can be easily integrated into the routine of the person with dementia will cause least disruption and therefore may work best.
  4. Start using memory aids as early as possible as they work best during the early stages of dementia.
  5. Some people with dementia may prefer not to use memory aids, as they may view them as constant reminders of their memory problems. Only use memory aids with the consent of the person with dementia, where possible. 

Serena Sharma January 2014, Reviewed and updated by Karen Rollins January 2017, Next review date December 2019

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