Using technology to support caregivers of older people with dementia

Technology can be used to support the caregivers of people living with dementia, however, developers and designers need to take caregiver needs into consideration.
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Janet Fast, University of Alberta

In June, the government of Canada released its long-awaited Dementia Strategy for Canada: Together We Aspire.

As a family caregiving researcher for more than two decades and a former family caregiver to my father, who had dementia, the strategy was welcome news. But my own research and personal experience suggest that we’re falling short of the aspiration to be “a Canada in which all people living with dementia and caregivers are valued and supported.”

I agree, perhaps selfishly, that research and innovation are essential for effective implementation of the dementia strategy. AGE-WELL NCE, Canada’s technology and aging network, engages older people, caregivers, product developers and designers in the development of technologies that can make their lives better.

I co-lead the AGE-WELL research project that is responsible for adding to what we already know about caregivers’ needs, developing new technologies to meet those needs and advocating for new policies and practices that will reduce the negative consequences of care. My team’s work shows clearly that caregiving takes a toll on the nearly half million Canadians caring for a family member or friend with dementia. Other caregivers also pay a price: poorer physical and mental health, social isolation and loneliness, financial hardship and insecurity. But that price is steeper when caring for someone with dementia.

Caring time and labour

Caregiving is time-consuming for all caregivers, averaging nine-and-a-half hours per week. It is more time-intensive for dementia caregivers, who provide more than 13 hours per week on average. Collectively, those half million dementia caregivers spent 342 million hours on care tasks in 2012, the equivalent of more than 171,000 full-time employees.

Care also is a different experience for men and women and these differences are more pronounced among dementia caregivers than others. Women dementia caregivers are more likely than men to experience negative health, social, employment and financial outcomes.

Layer on persistent gender wage discrimination and ineffective financial compensation strategies and it’s little wonder that a quarter of female dementia carers experienced care-related financial hardship. These caregivers often modify spending or defer savings to cover care-related expenses. This was a problem for only one in seven of their male counterparts.

Technological support

Existing technologies that can make caregivers’ jobs easier include GPS-enabled tracking and monitoring systems, smartphone and tablet applications, emergency alert systems, tele-health services, networking platforms and many others. But technology adoption and retention is poor, with 70 to 90 per cent of innovations failing.

An understanding caregivers’ needs can help technology developers in the design of apps and products that meet those needs.
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Sometimes this is because available technologies don’t meet caregiver needs very well. Many product designers and developers create the technology for the sake of it, without knowing whether caregivers want it or are prepared to use it. As a result, technology can have both negative and positive impacts on caregivers.

Traditional problem‐focused approaches to technology design can limit discussions to performing caregiving tasks, and fail to capture the complexity of “being in care relationships.” Product developers and designers need to understand caregivers’ complicated lives and unique needs if they’re to develop successful strategies for developing, promoting and delivering technologies to support family caregivers effectively.

Disrupting how we develop technologies by integrating caregivers into design practice so that it’s their experiences and expertise that drive the process is more likely to lead to products and services that solve their real-life problems, improve their well-being and, ultimately, succeed in the marketplace.

Supporting caregivers

While there are technologies and services that can help support caregivers, it’s usually up to caregivers to find them. Navigating a fragmented system of health and social supports is challenging, time-consuming, frustrating and often futile.

One of our team’s projects is addressing this challenge by applying a new type of artificial intelligence called cognitive computing. We have created an online tool that connects family caregivers to products that will support them and their family member or friend with dementia.

It will be far more specific and powerful than the usual search engines, allowing family carers to describe in plain language the problem they want to solve.

CARE-RATE uses cognitive computing to support caregivers looking for information and support.

A second project uses a co-creation process that taps caregivers’ experiences to develop a web portal that provides ongoing follow-up and training in the use of mobility aids such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs or scooters, when and where they need it.

A third project is asking caregivers to tell [researchers] about their preferences and priorities for technological solutions to some of their biggest challenges.

As our population grows older, disability rates increase and pressure on our health and continuing care sectors also grows. We have to understand, recognize and support family caregivers and their valuable work if we’re to meet the challenge.

Of course, technology alone is not enough to sustain the largely unpaid work of family caregivers. According to University of Birmingham social policy professor Paul Burstow, “getting the balance right between ‘tech’ and ‘touch’ is vital.”

From my perspective:

“We need to recognize the value of family caregivers’ work and their right to ‘have a life[’]; ensure that there are adequate, accessible and affordable services for care receivers and caregivers; organize workplaces and labour policy so that caregivers can keep earning a living alongside their care work as long as possible; and when caregiving still results in financial hardship for some, we need to be ready with anti-poverty measures.”

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Janet Fast, Professor and Co-Director, Research on Aging, Policies and Practice, University of Alberta

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Personhood

Reading up on all the news, reports and discussions on the aged care royal commission, it makes me wonder if personhood is forgotten in dementia care. Recognition, respect and trust is not rocket science and that’s just common sense. What’s happened to aged care? Why is it that people living with dementia are now being objectified, disrespected and feared in aged care. How did we go so wrong?

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International Women’s Day 2019

I hope in a decade when I look back on this post, the world will be a better place for people living with dementia, especially for women.

Jumping into the facts, a study evidently points out that in Singapore, 97% of caregivers for people living with dementia were female; comprising of daughters and daughter in law’s.

In the aged care sector, the workforce comprises of mostly women. In some countries up to 80%.

Our biological differences have seen more women then men living with dementia, and dementia being the leading cause of death for women.

For many of us women, we may be living with dementia, be the primary support for a loved one with dementia or working to formally provide care to a person living with dementia.

It’s important that we support each other and work together to educate the next generation, reducing traditional gender roles to enable more opportunities for a cure as more women move into STEM. Recognise the efforts and responsibilities of women taking on caring roles within the family, one that is of love, patience and pain as they live the long goodbye. Let’s not forget the many care staff in the aged care sector that have been working on minimum wage, understaffed and running off their feet, yet always having a warm smile and love for the people living with dementia that they care for.

Let’s do better for all women living and working with dementia!

Chemical restraint has no place in aged care, but poorly designed reforms can easily go wrong

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Chemical restraint occurs more often than we think in Australia’s aged care system.
From shutterstock.com
Juanita Westbury, University of Tasmania

Last month the aged care minister Ken Wyatt announced he would introduce regulations to address the use of “chemical restraint” in residential aged care – a practice where residents are given psychotropic drugs which affect their mental state in order to “control” their behaviour.

Psychotropic medications used as “chemical restraints” are antipsychotics, antidepressants, anti-epileptics and benzodiazepines (tranquilisers).

Wyatt followed this announcement this month with a A$4.2 million funding pledge to better monitor care in nursing homes through mandatory “quality indicators”, and including one covering medication management.

Of course, you would be hard pressed to find a staff member admitting to controlling a resident by giving them a tablet. Instead, most staff would stress that medication was given to calm or comfort them.




Read more:
Physical restraint doesn’t protect patients – there are better alternatives


But our research shows psychotropic use is rife in Australia’s aged care system.

Reforms are desperately needed, but we need to develop the right approach and learn from countries that have tried to regulate this area – most notably the United States and Canada.

What’s the problem with antipsychotic drugs?

Antipsychotic drugs such as risperidone and quetiapine are often used to manage behavioural symptoms of dementia.

But large reviews conclude they don’t work very well. They decrease agitated behaviour in only one in five people with dementia. And there is no evidence they work for other symptoms such as calling out and wandering.

Due to their limited effect – and side effects, including death, stroke and pneumonia – guidelines stress that antipsychotics should only be given to people with dementia when there is severe agitation or aggression associated with a risk of harm, delusions, hallucinations, or pre-existing mental illness.

The guidelines also state antipsychotics should only be given when non-drug strategies such as personalised activities have failed, at the lowest effective dose, and for the shortest period required.




Read more:
Needless treatments: antipsychotic drugs are rarely effective in ‘calming’ dementia patients


The high rates of antipsychotic use in Australian aged care homes indicates the guidelines aren’t being followed.

In our study of more than 12,000 residents across 150 homes, we found 22% were taking antipsychotics every day. More than one in ten were were charted for these drugs on an “as required” basis.

We also found large variations in use between nursing homes, ranging from 7% to 44% of residents. How can some homes operate with such low rates, whereas others have almost half their residents taking antipsychotic medications?

Regulations to reduce chemical restraint

Of all countries, the US has made the most effort to address high rates of antipsychotic use.

After reports in the 1980s highlighting poor nursing home care, Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which sets national minimum standards of care, guidelines to assist homes to follow the law, and surveyors to enforce it.

For residents with dementia and behavioural symptoms, the regulations require documentation of the behaviour, a trial of non-drug strategies such as activity programs, and dose reductions after six months.

Prescribing practices vary widely between institutions.
From shutterstock.com

Homes that don’t meet these regulations are subject to a series of sanctions, ranging from financial penalties to closure.

The regulations were initially associated with substantial declines in antipsychotic use. By 1995 only 16% of residents were taking them.

But average rates of use rose to 26% by 2010. And in 2011, a Senate hearing found 83% of claims for antipsychotics in nursing homes were prescribed for unlicensed use.

This led advocates to conclude the regulations and surveyor guidance were ineffective.

Quality indicators to reduce chemical restraint

Another way to reduce antipsychotic use in aged care homes is by mandatory quality indicators, along with public reporting. The US introduced this in 2012. A similar system was instituted in Ontario, Canada, in 2015.

Measures are essential for quality improvement. But they can also lead to unintended consequences and cheating.

In the US, antipsychotic rates for people with dementia has allegedly reduced by 27% since the start of their quality indicator program.

But those diagnosed with schizophrenia were exempt from reporting. Then the percentage of residents listed as having schizophrenia doubled from 5% to nearly 10% of residents within the first few years of the initiative. So 20% of the reduction was probably due to intentional mis-diagnosis rather than an actual decrease in antipsychotic use.




Read more:
What is ‘quality’ in aged care? Here’s what studies (and our readers) say


A recent US study has also shown that the use of alternative sedating medications not subject to reporting, specifically anti-epileptic drugs, has risen substantially as antipsychotic use declined, indicating widespread substitution.

In Ontario, the use of trazadone, a sedating antidepressant, has also markedly increased since its antipsychotic reporting program began.

Reporting issues

In the US, nursing homes self-report indicators. A recent study compared nursing home data with actual prescribing claims, concluding that homes under-reported their antipsychotic prescribing, on average, by 1 percentage point.

Public reporting is often also time-consuming, with some researchers arguing that time spent managing quality indicators may be better spent providing care for residents.

Where to now?

Awareness of a problem is the first step to addressing it, and chemical restraint is a key issue coming to light in the aged care royal commission.

The proposed regulations and new quality indicator will allow homes and regulators to monitor the use of chemical restraint, but more importantly, should be used to assess the impact of training and other strategies to ensure appropriate use of psychotropic medications.

But to meet their full potential, these programs need to be carefully designed and evaluated to ensure that cheating, under-reporting and substitution does not occur like it did in North America.

Juanita Westbury, Senior Lecturer in Dementia Care, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alzheimer associations in Asia

Asiaorg

Many caregivers in Asia can agree, it’s super hard to find resources and in some countries, it’s hard even to know where to start. When we go online there are so many websites and resources, it’s hard to even know where to start. It’s hard especially when a lot of information tends to be advertisements for private organisations promoting their services. When this post from Monica Cations post popped up on twitter, it was like, wow, what a great idea!

Let’s have one for countries in Asia. The list is below is one for Asia, and if you wish to view the full list of organisations, you can visit https://www.alz.co.uk/associations

Bangladesh *                     www.alzheimerbd.com

Brunei **                            demensia.brunei@gmail.com

China                                     www.adc.org.cn

Hong Kong SAR                 www.hkada.org.hk

Indonesia                            www.alzi.or.id

Japan                                    www.alzheimer.or.jp

Macau SAR                         www.mada.org.mo

Malaysia                              www.adfm.org.my

Philippines                          www.alzphilippines.com

Republic of Korea             www.silverweb.or.kr

Singapore                            www.alz.org.sg

Sri Lanka                              www.alzlanka.org

TADA Chinese Taipei       www.tada2002.org.tw

Thailand                               www.azthai.org

Study shows dementia care program delays nursing home admissions, cuts Medicare costs

Woman in nursing home

Sima Dimitric/Flickr

 

News Release
December 2018 | UCLA – Study shows dementia care program delays nursing home admissions, cuts Medicare costs

 

New research shows that a comprehensive, coordinated care program for people with dementia and their caregivers significantly decreased the likelihood that the individuals would enter a nursing home. The study also shows that the program saved Medicare money and was cost-neutral after accounting for program costs.

The research, conducted at the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, was designed to evaluate the costs of administering the program, as well as the health care services used by program participants, including hospitalizations, emergency room visits, hospital readmissions and long-term nursing home placement.

“The findings of this study show that a health care system-based comprehensive dementia care program can keep persons with dementia in their homes and in the community without any additional cost to Medicare,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. David Reuben, Archstone Professor of Medicine and chief of the UCLA Division of Geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study was published Dec. 21 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The research focused on the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program. In the program, people with dementia and their caregivers meet with a nurse practitioner specializing in dementia care for a 90-minute in-person assessment and then receive a personalized dementia care plan that addresses the medical, mental health and social needs of both people. The nurse practitioners work collaboratively with the patient’s primary care provider and specialist physicians to implement the care plan, including adjustments as needs change over time. A total of 1,083 Medicare beneficiaries with dementia were enrolled in the program and were followed for three years. The study compared them to a similar group of patients living in the same ZIP codes who did not participate in the program.

“The most striking finding was that patients enrolled in the program reduced their risk of entering a nursing home by about 40 percent,” said lead author Dr. Lee Jennings, assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Jennings began the project while on faculty at the Geffen School and finished it after arriving at Oklahoma.

There were no differences between the two study groups in hospitalizations, emergency room visits or hospital readmissions. However, cost was another important element of the study. Participants in the program saved Medicare $601 per patient, per quarter, for a total of $2,404 a year. However, after program costs were factored in, the program was cost-neutral and might result in savings in other settings, such as at other health care systems. That was good news to the study’s authors.

“We found the study to be very exciting,” Jennings said, “because it showed that an intensive intervention can delay nursing home entry without adding costs. The intervention isn’t going to reverse dementia, but it allows us to provide high-quality care to help patients cope with the progression of this disease and stay in their homes for longer.”

Jennings added that individuals with dementia typically have not received good-quality care. “Part of the reason,” she said, “is that the care takes a significant amount of time, which primary care physicians don’t have in abundance. In addition, pharmacologic treatments for dementia are limited, which makes community resources all the more important for both patients and caregivers. However, community programs tend to be underutilized.”

The intervention featured in the study addresses those issues directly. The assessment looks not only at what the patient and caregiver need, but also at their strengths, such as financial security, family assistance and proximity to community resources. It is designed to be interdisciplinary and to address the needs of both patients and caregivers.

“This study aligns with similar studies of collaborative care models for other chronic diseases, such as heart failure,” Jennings said. “It underscores that we need to be thinking differently about how we provide care to persons with chronic illnesses, like dementia. This study shows the benefit of a collaborative care model, where nurse practitioners and physicians work together to provide comprehensive dementia care.”

Doubting a diagnosis of dementia

A brilliant article by Kate Swaffer and a must read. I have been saying this over and over again, having worked in imaging for a short while. MRI and procedures for scans are stressful and distressing. And the whole process of diagnosis is just a mind field for everyone.

In the last few weeks, there have been a few articles, blogs or tweets on the impact of others publicly doubting a persons diagnosis of dementia, which I am highlighting here for your weekend reading! One tweet by a professional last week claimed with certainty some people don’t have dementia. Whilst it didn’t name anyone, it was disturbing. I’m reasonably certain, in the same way people rally around someone diagnosed with cancer, they also never doubt the diagnosis, including when the person ‘does better than expected‘.

People with cancer (or any other ‘mostly invisible’ diseases) are never diagnosed or doubted publicly, including by others after a conversation, presentation or after reading a book or blog. I can never tell who in a room has heart disease, diabetes, and in the early stages of conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and even Parkinson’s. It is the same for people with dementia as…

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