Dementia, digital, and doing things differently

At Tinder Foundation, it’s our job to make good things happen through digital technology – and to make them happen for the hardest to reach, most isolated and excluded audiences. That includes the 850,000 or so people in the UK with dementia – and their carers.

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Godfrey, 68, was knocked sideways by his Alzhiemer’s diagnosis. He describes the disease as like  ‘living life in slow motion’. He stopped socialising, and shut himself away. One day, one of our UK online centre research partners (Age UK South Tyneside) visited his care home, and were showing some YouTube videos of old music performances – including Frank Sinatra. He went over to see what was happening.

Gradually Godfrey learned how to use a tablet. He needed a lot of help – a few simple icons to press for each activity he wanted to do – and different smells to help him recall the processes for each one.

Now Godfrey can Skype his son or daughter with just a touch of a button. He can look up his favourite musicians, and find new music. He’s become a fan of Seasick Steve, and his Grandson in Australia thinks he’s ‘cool’. He’s ordering his prescriptions online now, and he’s found out more about Alzheimer’s disease – so he feels more in control. He’s also joined some specialist groups so he’s getting out and about more.

In Godfrey’s own words, “You don’t realise what you can do until you try it out and it has really helped me stop feeling sorry for myself, snap out of my depression and start looking forward to things again.”

I believe digital skills really can help everyone and anyone live better, more fulfilling lives. And at Tinder Foundation we’ve had a look in greater depth at the role of digital skills and community-based support in improving the health and wellbeing of families affected by dementia.

Today, we’re launching a new research report – Dementia and Digital: Using technology to improve health and wellbeing, that begins to track the impact of technology on both people like Godfrey who have dementia, and their carers. It also scopes out the challenges and barriers to engagement and delivery, and what really works to make technology work well for these audiences.

This small, in-depth research follows on from our three year programme with NHS England to widen participation in digital health. Our aim has always been to reduce health inequalities – recognising the huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded and those at risk of poor health.

It is important to note that carers deserve as much of our time and support as the people they love and care for, and have equal prominence in our report. With so much on their plates already, they were often reluctant to add digital skills to their to-do lists, or to facilitate the learning of those they cared for. Once engaged, though, carers have found digital technology a lifeline. It is a way to create space in their lives for themselves, accessing support, saving time on everyday tasks, and helping the people they care for find both coping strategies and memories.

Ken Brown looks after wife Val, who has vascular dementia. As her appetite has faded, he’s been able to use the internet to research if this was part of her illness, find reassurance and new recipes and tactics to help her start eating more. For Ken, the internet has just made life that bit easier. “It means I’ve got somewhere to go, rather than sitting and thinking ‘what do I do now?’”

Digital doesn’t solve any problems all by itself. But it can help us do things differently, and in doing so make a difference to health, wellbeing and quality of life. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the NHS, with frontline health and care professionals, and with organisations that support people with memory loss and their carers, to ensure these benefits can be realised as widely as possible.

The full Dementia and Digital report can be found on our website. I do hope you enjoy reading it. If you can help us expand our work and take these findings forwards, please do get in touch – hello@tinderfoundation.org.

 

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