Dementia is affecting large numbers of people and is a significant burden for society. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia affecting 50-70 % of all patients.  There is also a considerable impact on those caring for family members with Alzheimer’s or other dementia which may cause emotional stress and depression, especially on the long run. In addition to these saddening facts, the number of doctors is steadily declining.

Health IT technology addresses all these three areas where dementia is causing problems. Innovative start-up companies and even teenagers developed health IT technologies that may take some of the burdens away.

Technology for caregivers to offer them peace of mind

According to the AARP 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. report, Alzheimer’s or dementia is one of the top three reasons that patients over the age of 50 require at-home caregivers. Reports show that 60% of people living with Alzheimer’s wander off regularly, and thus putting a significant strain on their caregivers. A simple sensor can be all the difference between a restful or stressful night: a Japanese teenager placed this pressure sensor in a sock. If the patient wakes up at night, the sensor activates the alarm on the caregiver’s phone. Sensors, placed around the house, alert if, for example, the fridge door opens (and presumably the patient eats something), the front door is opened at night, the window is open (cold temperatures posing a threat). Patients using these technologies can grow old in their homes and retain their independence.

Technology for medication management

When continuous monitoring is not possible, medication is also the problem. Patients can end up back in the hospital, or even worse. What if we can monitor medicine intake? A company developed an ingestible sensor the size of a grain of sand, made up of ingredients found in food. This sensor is mixed with the prescribed drug, and when it’s swallowed and reaches the stomach, it sends a signal outside the body and a small patch sensor capture it. Data is transmitted to a smartphone and shared with caregivers and doctors alike. It might sound like science-fiction, but the company behind it already partnered with drug manufacturers to test their ingestible sensor on a massive scale.

I know this technology is out of reach for now, but smart pill box dispensers are already widely used. These pill boxes are loaded with the proper medications once a week or a month. They alert patients audibly or visually to take their medicine. The dispenser is tamper-proof or lockable to avoid overdosing. The smart pill box opens only when it’s time to take the drugs, with the help of a smartphone app.

Technology for medical staff

After doctors establish a diagnose, prescribe drugs, and the patient is released home, most of the caregiving activity is reduced to constant patient-doctor communication. When communication is the essential tool, technology really excels: automated patient engagement technologies allows healthcare providers to push out a variety of messages, educational materials for the caregivers, reminders when medication needs to be refilled, patient visit needs to be scheduled or an appointment is pending.

Technology can also link a team of different health and care professionals to get information about each other’s activities to support the patient and oversee all important patient data. “Integrated care” means not only linking social and health aspects of patient support, but also to connect a diverse team of health specialists who often do not meet personally (take a neurologist, an eye specialist, physiotherapist and a GP as an example) while they all play an important role in the patient journey, and their coordinated support can make the difference.

Author: Eva Lajko