A Helpful “Voice” in Dementia Caregiving

How many times has someone asked you the same question over and over again? Unfortunately, many older adults experience age-associated memory impairment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have dementia. However, it is because of dementia that one of the most common stereotypes attributed to older adults is a poor memory.

First off, not all seniors get dementia. Dementia is a syndrome in which memory and cognitive functions are negatively impacted. Yet, this condition is associated with older adults because it is usually diagnosed amongst the aging population.

In fact, it’s so common that there is a new case of dementia every 3 seconds a year. Within the last few years, there have been numerous medical advancements; the standard of living has raised significantly. Life expectancy has increased over the past couple decades and more countries have a larger number of elederly people who require care. Dementia is already found in high volumes but in the next 30 years it is expected to increase from 9.9 million to 152 million cases worldwide.

The most widespread form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. It is usually found amongst people over the age of 65, although early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease is possible in younger people.

A diagnosis in dementia is usually earth-shattering and horrifying news. We don’t often think about how it is an equally heavy load on family members and just how extremely difficult it is to care for someone with dementia.

It is very difficult to care for people with dementia because they need so much assistance. Families are going to face a variety of new challenges when dealing with a loved one in this condition. The dementing illness can cause them to wander and get lost so a watchful eye is required. Victims tend to experience the worst of their condition at night, which can make the exhausted caregivers’ jobs more trying. And something as simple as getting dressed can become an overwhelming process from deciding what to wear to maneuvering zippers. Bath time can be a frightening and stress-inducing experience for many dementia sufferers, which can make them act out. It is definitely not an easy task to look after someone with dementia.

There are so many resources for doctors and nurses to care for patients, but there aren’t many for caregivers. People with dementia need assistance, but caregivers need assistance too. However, one of the reasons there isn’t a lot of help for caregiving for dementia is because brain illnesses are not well understood and not really talked about.

“Illnesses of the brain are heavily stigmatized,” Seth Rogan, comedian and founder of Hilarity for Charity, says. When his mother-in-law was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Seth Rogan established the organization that is dedicated to raising awareness and seeking solutions. The Alzheimer’s Association has been working strenuously to further the research of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

However, many more people will continue to be afflicted and their family members will have to decide if they will become caregivers or outsource the responsibility.

Many of the affected older adults, especially with low-acuity, end up needing to live in assisted living residences. Those with low-acuity cannot live on their own and require constant care. It is difficult for their families to care for them when they have full-time jobs and kids of their own. Senior living facilities are currently the last resort, but this is a growing industry. As the aging population increases, there will be greater demand for these residences. Residents in all stages of dementia can be cared for, regardless of their acuity levels. One such place is The 80th Street Residence, an assisted living community specializing in memory care. They provide 5-star service and care for each member as if they were their own family.

The 80th Street Residence uses Soundmind’s HIPAA-compliant voice assistant management platform to help caregivers provide smarter care. Residents have their very own voice assistant to keep minds sharp with activities such as trivia, interactive storytelling, education in history, and voice applications like Memory Lane.

As residents’ dementia progresses, some of them will experience difficulty expressing themselves through articulation. Thus, voice assistants in these situations are solely used by the caregivers. It helps employees keep an organized care guide for each resident without needing a daily planner or phone. Daily planners can get disorganized and difficult to read as there become more residents to keep track of. And assisted living facilities tend to not distribute work phones. Since caregivers are not allowed to use their personal phones to access or store resident information, voice assistants are the perfect solution.

Employees no longer have to look down at their phones mid-conversation to conduct Google searches or set reminders, which even though it is purposeful, comes off as rude. No one enjoys having a conversation with someone who is providing minimal eye contact. Interestingly, one of the most important components of communicating with elders who have dementia is eye contact. It gives them a sense of encouragement to try to engage in a conversation, as difficult as it may be for them. It can also put them at ease. When dementia has progressed into its later stages, the resident is usually unable to speak, so nonverbal cues become really important. A screen-free interaction between people not only provides a better interacting experience but also demonstrates that you care. Essentially, the staff is able to communicate where they can assure residents that they are providing undivided attention and actively listening through eye contact. This deeper connection creates more meaningful relationships which in turn creates a better work environment. A better work environment increases the chances employees stay. This is extremely important in the senior living industry given turnover rates are high, amounting to approximately 70%.

Now, new workers simply speak to access a resident’s profile information so they are instantly caught up on their needs and preferences. This also helps create a daily routine. Consistency can be very helpful for those with dementia. With a simple command, caregivers can tell voice assistants to remind them of what to do for specific patients like administering medication, help with hygiene, or set up a call with family or friends. This saves the assisted living facility time and money on the length of training that would otherwise be necessary.

Using a voice assistant is also a wonderful and very easy way to stay in touch with loved ones. Support is very important during a time like this. Assisted living facilities are stereotyped as isolating environments. However, with voice assistants, calling and texting has never been easier. Those with higher acuity do not need to wait for their caregivers to retrieve their contacts and bring them a phone since all they need to say is “Alexa, call Jane.” They can also send texts, which younger generations use more frequently. This is also done through an easy command, such as “Alexa, text Jane ‘Hello’.” Using speech often is very important for dementia sufferers because it is one of the skills that they can lose in the late stages.

Another thing voice assistants can do besides better relationships between caregivers and residents is to make music therapy much easier. One of the main things that 80th Street Residence uses Soundmind’s platform for is music. Music therapy is a popular practice where songs are played for individuals who have dementia in order to evoke emotions and memories. One of the leading organizations to promote music therapy in senior living is Music & Memory.

In the very late stages of dementia, many sufferers struggle with the ability to take in food. Their difficulty with swallowing leads to a higher risk of dehydration and malnutrition. Current research conducted by Music & Memory has shown that listening to music can improve the ability to swallow which leads to better nutrition. Also, a change has been noted in stoic residents when they listened to songs from their youth; they were able to recall lyrics and even sing along. Luckily, there are companies like Eversound and SingFit who recognize the benefits and improved listening to music and singing for therapy. This practice has many positive effects on people suffering from dementia that keep them healthier and happier.

It has never been easier to access music now. Rather than turning to smartphones and tablets, as was necessary before, music is as easy to attain as a simple command, such as “Alexa, play Frank Sinatra.” This is easy for caregivers now that they don’t have to concern themselves with charging devices or having to scroll through and search for individual songs or playlists. Sometimes people with dementia can get restless at night and it is difficult for the caregiver to placate them. Caregivers simply need to ask voice assistants for relaxation music, which creates a calming environment. This takes a weight off caregivers and greatly benefits residents. As a result of music streaming, they can listen to music more often and experience the positive effects of music therapy.

The way music accessibility evolved is an inspiration for how voice assistant accessibility can evolve as well. Smart speakers are not currently the most commonly used device. However, as voice assistants make their way through homes, it is imperative that they have greater purposes than just telling us the weather or the time. They can play a huge role in assisting people with dementia and those that care for them.

For more information about ways to care for people with dementia reach out to CaringKind — the leading expert in dementia caregiving. They emphasize the importance of staying physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy when dealing with dementia.