Can Technology Help with Alzheimer's?

I follow a LinkedIn group called the ‘AIA Academy of Architecture for Health’ (AAH), and through it I discovered the organization The Institute for Patient-Centered Design, Inc, which publishes a newsletter called Perspectives for design professionals and patients.

May 2011’s newsletter contains an interesting article entitled ‘Simple Technology Makes a Huge Impact,’ which focuses on the Simple C Companion. SimpleC created this device as a way of improving dementia in elderly patients, without resorting to medication. The touch-screen tablet-style device used by both staff and patients, contains categories that schedule medications and other physical necessities by the patient, and the patient’s individual cognitive therapy. I assume it is similar to, but a better and more personal version of the game memory:

“Their non-drug therapy is grouped into four categories: reminiscence, music, orientation and trusted voice (SimpleC, 2011).” (Elizabeth Jones, Simple Technology Makes a Huge Impact, Perspectives, 2011).

Staff members can upload patient information to the screens, so patients can have reminders, both of their schedules, but also of who they and the people who care for them are. I believe this product’s intent is to give back some independence to patients without resorting to medication.

What intrigues me, is when Elizabeth Jones points out in her article that:

“Designers play a significant role in the success of SimpleC. Currently, each room in a facility is equipped with a freestanding touch screen monitor. Staff work spaces and common areas are typically equipped with at least one monitor. With designers’ help, a freestanding monitor could be strategically integrated into each room as well as common areas.” (Elizabeth Jones, Perspectives, 2011).

I agree that designers can play a significant role in the use of products like this. While researching my thesis, I read a book called ‘Inquiry by Design‘, by John Zeisel, where he researches a design tool for Alzheimer’s patients that places memorabilia boxes at the front entry of a patient’s room, suite or apartment. The patient can recognize their unit from the many others based on the objects found within the box; items from their past, which include photographs, and significant or sentimental objects. The SimpleC touchscreen could be used in place of this: an interactive memory tool that helps patients and staff members locate patient spaces within a complex of continuing care. However, I wonder what would be more successful as a reminder; an image of a sentimental object from one’s past, or the actual tangible object? I would suggest using a SimpleC Companion type product in tangent with physical reminders of the patients’ past.

I would love to see the SimpleC Companion in operation, and I would love to see it compared to traditional care. Would the patient feel more cared for by interacting with this tool? Or would they prefer more attention by staff members? Would a family member’s photograph take the place of that person, and what if their appearance changes? Does that affect Alzheimer’s patients if they only remember a face a certain way? I hope more gets published on the studies of the SimpleC Companion being done at Emory University, the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. I would love to read about it.