The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will more than double by 2050. This estimate has people around the world seeking new and unique ways to cope with the impending increase.
In response, the United States released its National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease (NAPA). It joins eight other countries, including Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, which, according to the WHO, have national plans in place to combat the disease.
These plans call for a variety of things, including increased funding and manpower devoted to devising new treatments and interventions to help Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers better cope with the disease.
Most countries share the goal of eradicating AD, but different nations have different strategies for helping people cope in the meantime. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Department of Health teamed up with the Design Council to develop “Living Well with Dementia,” a design program that challenged people to come up with products and services meant to make life better for people with dementia.
These designs include products like a scented alarm meant to help trigger the desire to eat in people who have lost their appetite. Another design included training for canine companions to help people with mild dementia with daily tasks like waking up, taking medications and going to the bathroom. The Design Council announced that the challenge’s top five designs have been nominated for further development.
Ode to a Good Meal
The challenge of enticing an elderly loved one to eat is not exclusive to those caring for people with dementia. However, Alzheimer’s can make it difficult for seniors to remember whether they’ve already eaten and seriously affect a person’s sense of hunger.
This dilemma compelled Rodd, a U.K. design firm, to create the “Ode,” a tabletop machine that releases food aromas at strategic times throughout the day. Ode’s scents include Bakewell tart (an English dessert), spice and citrus. When released around mealtimes, these odors have been shown to play a role in appetite stimulation in people with dementia.
Preliminary testing indicates that the Ode model has shown promise. In some cases, people with dementia who had Ode placed in their rooms had a 39 percent increase in positive eating behaviors, such as requesting second helpings and weight gain.
The creators of Ode envision their concept expanding to products that possibly help manage moods and increase concentration in people with dementia.
Fido Facilitates Living with Dementia
More and more people are being diagnosed with dementia in its early stages, meaning that they can still perform many activities of daily living without much assistance.
The problem is that dementia can cause these people to lose more than just their memory. They may also lose their sense of routine and responsibility, as well as their place in the community.
To help dementia patients reconnect with the outside world, members of the Glasgow School of Art teamed up with Alzheimer’s Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs U.K. to come up with the concept of a “dementia service dog” for people in the mild stages of the disease.
From a practical standpoint, these specially-trained pooches will be able to do things like wake their owners up, deliver bite-proof pouches of prescription pills and give reminders for things like meal times. The dogs are also intended to “act as an anchor” for a person with dementia, helping them feel more comfortable in their homes as well as in the outside world.
The dementia dog design team hopes that just by walking the dog, seniors with the disease will be able to engage more with other people in their community. Pilot testing of the dementia dog program is projected to begin by the end of this year.
The Caregiver Creative
Living Well with Dementia produced some exciting ideas, but most of them are still in the developmental stages.
This is an approach the U.S. has not yet taken in its battle with Alzheimer’s, but it could be helpful in the future. By seeking input from a variety of people involved in the eldercare field—caregivers included—the designers were able to gain valuable insight into what life is like for the elderly, and those who care for them.
As a caregiver, you have first-hand knowledge of the challenges involved in taking care of someone with a chronic illness. Take a moment to think about the day-to-day difficulties you face while taking care of your loved one.
What would make your life easier? What would make your loved one’s life better? What would you design?