AAIC 2019: The role of technology in dementia care and prevention

Written by Siobhan Bennett (Future Science Group)

New studies reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (14–18 July 2019, Los Angeles, CA, USA) are addressing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias from a new angle. Technology is constantly expanding and evolving, and its role in improving dementia care, prevention and alleviating the ongoing health burden is being examined. The research is taking three different angles – direct care of people living with dementia, assistance for caregivers and prevention education for young people.
Telemedicine programs could decrease the use of emergency departments by people with dementia

Studies have indicated that individuals with dementia have high rates of emergency department (ED) use for acute illness when compared with age-matched peers without a dementia diagnosis. These ED visits not only incur additional costs to the healthcare system but can be particularly stressful for individuals with dementia. Researchers at University of Wisconsin–Madison (WI, USA) evaluated the use of a lower-cost telemedicine or remote consultation with a healthcare provider as an alternative to visiting the ED.

The telemedicine program consisted of a staff member collecting the current medical information and history of study participants, plus images, audio and video. This could then be assessed by the physician, assistant or nurse. Where appropriate, the clinician then conducted video conferences with the person with dementia, a caregiver, or both. Following this, the clinician was able to order laboratory tests, x-rays or medicine, and provide care instructions.

The study enrolled a total of 731 participants with dementia from 22 senior living communities in a north eastern city in the USA. All participants were considered to have dementia based on if they had a diagnosis on their medical record, were receiving treatment, or had cognitive testing consistent with dementia. The study then compared 220 participants who had access to telemedicine care and 511 who did not (classed as controls).

Over 3.5 years of the study the researchers indicated that the telemedicine intervention was associated with an annualized decrease of 24% in ED visits. The team also noted that the intervention did not change the number of face-to-face visits that patients had with their primary care physician.

“Telemedicine, in the way we implemented it, works to decrease ED visits in people with dementia who live in independent or assisted living communities,” concluded Manish Shah (University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, USA). “Future research is needed to confirm our findings and examine changes in the overall cost of healthcare delivered to these persons.”

Abstract: Shah M. High intensity telemedicine reduces emergency department use by older adults with dementia in senior living communities. Presented at: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 14–18 July 2019.

MyBrainRobbie: an animation to promote brain health in early development

With AD and other dementias being an increasing health concern, a growing global initiative is in preventing the diseases rather than treating them. Healthy lifestyle choices including regular exercise, good sleep habits and a balanced diet have been recommended as a prevention method.

MyBrainRobbie, which is a 7-minute multimedia resource that teaches children about healthy brain behaviors, was tested in 13 classes during a 1-hour structured and timed period. The study started with ice breaker questions about health promotion and the brain’s function. This then continued onto the viewing of the MyBrainRobbie video and a post-video evaluation including a self-assessment of understanding, rating of the video and their willingness to share it was conducted. Finally, a list of eight neuroprotective habits was detailed to the children followed by a Q/A and debrief. Of the 303 students these were the ratings of MyBrainRobbie:

  • 64% excellent
  • 7% good
  • 7% no opinion
  • 3% bad
  • 06% very bad

The highest satisfaction and willingness to share was seen from the youngest students as well as the animation being easy to understand. With these results in mind, the researchers suggested that MyBrainRobbie is a promising tool to promote brain health in children.

“We hope to increase global public awareness of the importance of brain health across the lifespan in an engaging way while reducing social health inequities,” explained study author Eleonore Bayen (Sorbonne University, Paris, France). “Five more international versions of MyBrainRobbie’s video, website and educational packs will debut this year in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Turkish, and Arabic, joining the suite of materials already available in English and French.”

Abstract: Bayen E. An evaluation of the implementation of MyBrainRobbie in school-age children in France. Presented at: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 14–18 July 2019.

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Source: Alzheimer’s Association. Lifestyle interventions provide maximum memory benefit when combined; and may offset elevated Alzheimer’s risk due to genetics, pollution. Press release: www.alz.org/aaic/releases_2019/sunTECHNOLOGY-jul14.asp