Leo Spalteholz

New CanAssist technology eases anxieties for dementia caregivers

CanAssist at the University of Victoria hopes to field test two new devices to help people with dementia remain in their own homes

CanAssist at the University of Victoria — which develops innovative assistive technologies — hopes to field test two new devices to help people with dementia remain in their own homes.

The professional team develops customized technologies and innovative programs where there are gaps in existing services, while providing meaningful opportunities for student, faculty and community engagement.

The recent focus is on keeping seniors, especially those with dementia, in homes as long as possible, which includes reducing stress and anxiety for caregivers and other family members.

“What we’re really looking for is an extension of the stay at home,” Leo Spalteholz, CanAssist engineering manager. “Ultimately that would lead to efficiencies.”

Focus groups across the province – with organizations and caregivers proficient in dementia concerns – identified the tipping points where people can’t live at home anymore and how to address those stressors.

They’re ready to test two new technologies developed with funding from the BC Ministry of Health.

The Wandering Redirect System’s first line of defense is a small screen bedside that states simply and in large font, the time and whether it’s night or day.

“(It’s designed) to discourage people from wandering outside, especially at night,” Spalteholz said.

“A lot of people with dementia get daytime/nighttime confused or they become active at night. That’s something we’ve heard again and again.”

A second computer tablet screen hangs on the doorway. Motion-activated, at night it displays messages set up by the caregiver, in either text or video format. For example, the screen might show “Stop. It’s night. The stores are closed,” followed by a clip of a loved one reiterating that it’s not at time to be out.

“It’s specific to the client,” Spalteholz said.

“The other thing is it can display a video, a familiar face giving a message. We wanted to add that familiar.”

If the person does leave during the night, the system can be set to call a family member.

In the day, again motion-activated, the screen comes alive with a calendar outlining clearly and simply, verbally and by text, the day, date, time and what activities are planned for the day.

All can be set by the caregiver, either onsite or remotely.

“We don’t want any of this to require technology,” Spalteholz said. The system needed to be easy and cost-effective for those on fixed incomes. They heard loud and clear that monthly subscription fees were “just not on the table.”

The Phone-in Monitoring System uses a standard land-line phone and small, unobtrusive wireless sensors to provide information about an individual’s activity when he or she is home alone.

The caregiver can call home and enter a code. The system then offers a variety of information options, dependent on the caregiver’s needs, that includes noting where motion in the home was detected, if there were any incoming phone calls and whether the front door has been opened.

It can even be activated to phone out to a family member if a door is used between certain times.

When enabled, it can record all calls and attempt to block telemarketers. All can be tailored to meet a client’s needs; no data leaves the home and it’s always under the caregiver’s control.

CanAssist is looking for volunteer families that include someone with early-stage dementia to test the new technologies, installed by the CanAssist team at no cost to eligible families. In return, families would be asked to provide feedback on the technology’s effectiveness.

They’ll accept clients Island-wide and “if it’s a value to them, (the technology is) theirs to keep,” Spalteholz said.

“The feedback we get from volunteer families will be a tremendous help in our long-term goal to make life safer for people with dementia, and less stressful for their caregivers.”

 

Those who feel the technology would benefit them can contact Megan Yon, client relation co-ordinator, CanAssist at myon@uvic.ca or 250-853-3874.