Assistive technology for memory support in dementia


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Review question

We wanted to find out from a review of the evidence whether Assistive Technology can help people with dementia overcome some of the effects of their memory problems.

Background

Dementia causes memory problems that make it increasingly difficult to carry out everyday activities, for example cooking, remembering appointments, taking medication. The memory problems experienced can have a large negative impact on people with dementia, and may cause confusion, anxiety, embarrassment, or depression. This decreasing ability to carry out daily activities can cause stress to family carers who worry about the person’s safety and well-being. A range of electronic devices — most commonly referred to as Assistive Technology (AT – used throughout this review), and sometimes as Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) — have been developed to support people with dementia. The devices can be divided into four categories offering support with general and personal information (e.g. digital social charts); practical support with problems caused by the symptoms of dementia, especially memory loss (e.g. electronic pill dispenser boxes, electronic diaries); support with social contact and company (e.g. picture phones, interactive ‘pet’ robots); and support with perceived risks to health and safety (e.g. tracking devices, fall sensors). In this review, we concentrated on devices intended to help people manage their memory problems. We wanted to find our whether AT is effective at helping people who have memory problems due to dementia carry out their daily activities, and whether it makes them less dependent on others, improves their quality of life or has an effect on admission to institutional care. We also wanted to find out if it has any impact on family and paid carers.

Study characteristics

We searched systematically for all research studies that had evaluated AT by allocating people with dementia at random to an AT device or to ‘usual care’ or a non-technological solution to support memory and then comparing outcomes. Our search included all the evidence available up to 10 November 2016.

Key results

We found no studies that met our criteria.

Quality of the evidence

The review identified a lot of literature on the development of AT, including reports of researchers working with people with dementia and their carers to determine the type and design of AT which might be useful. There was also a lot of guidance written for health professionals and potential users of AT. We found some small studies that had tested the effectiveness of selected AT devices, but the methods used were not of a high enough quality to meet the review criteria. Therefore we cannot be sure at the moment whether or not AT can really help people with dementia manage their memory problems. We believe more research should be done in this area.