iPad Assistive Technology for Dementia – Occupational Therapy

Older Adult Dementia IPad

Introduction

iPads have become a part of our daily lives. They are used by parents to keep their children occupied or for learning, in retail stores to be more efficient, in educational settings, and in the home. Many older adults find the iPad to be a practical and useful device for entertainment, communication, work, leisure, and daily functioning. What about people with dementia?

Many assistive technologies are used by people with dementia to promote daily functioning. Devices include sensors, alarms, emergency alarms, stair lifts, dementia/talking clocks, simple remote controls, GPS trackers, Amazon Alexa, and oftentimes the iPad (Sriram & Peters, 2020).

A qualitative study looked at the carer’s experience using AT for dementia in the home. Carers came up with creative solutions to use iPads for:

  • Entertainment, e.g. movies
  • Communication – video calls
  • Memory – photo albums and videos

Barriers

The study revealed how social pressure may contribute to the use of such devices. In my experience, many older adults I know adopted to using smartphones much easier than they anticipated. I imagine the iPad has been no different due to its ease of use, intuitive interface, and accessibility settings to adapt the device to the individual.

Common barriers may include remembering to charge the device, small buttons, and interfaces, difficult to read text, low contrast, information overload (too many notifications), learning curve for general use and new apps, or misplacing the device in the home.

Potential Uses

As the iPad is essentially a mini-computer, its uses are endless and are only dependent on the availability of apps that can be downloaded or what is included in the stock version of IOS. As monitoring devices and alarms seem to be commonly used as assistive technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the continual new addition of products can allow integration with the iPad with other AT. For example, people with dementia may only need to keep track of 1 device – the iPad, instead of multiple remote controls, pendants, etc. A potential paring of devices can be the Apple Watch with the iPad, for example.

An important procedure that should be completed is customizing the device and education of how to use the iPad by caregivers. Caregivers will likely need to continuously educate and remind people with dementia about its potential uses.

A creative way caregivers can use the iPad is to record videos that remind those with dementia how to perform daily functioning, e.g., “This is where things are located.” Reminders and notifications can be set by the caregiver to remind the person with dementia to do things such as take medications or perform basic ADLs.

Safety

Depending on the severity of dementia, caregivers may want to place additional security settings or be more aware of certain behaviors. One safety and privacy issue to consider is how the iPad may be connected to the Internet. As there are many scams, phishing attacks, and general safety concerns of the Internet, a person with dementia is exposed to a wide variety of risks. They may be taken advantage of by others online with ill intent to get access to their credit cards, social security numbers, for example. For this reason, the caregiver may want to disable internet access, closely monitor it, or put other safeguards in place.

Caregiver iPad Use

For the caregivers, they used the iPad as a notification and monitoring device. iPads can also help keep track of information and reminders to help make the caregiver role easier. Examples include appointments, medications, medical information, and checking in with the family member or client via Facetime.

Sources

Sriram, V., Jenkinson, C., & Peters, M. (2020). Carers’ experience of using assistive technology for dementia care at home: a qualitative study. BMJ open10(3), e034460.

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, culture, sociology, philosophy, and more.