New tech seeks to calm SNF residents having dementia

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The tool is reiminiscent of an old-fashioned radio or TV to help residents feel comfortable using it.
The tool is reiminiscent of an old-fashioned radio or TV to help residents feel comfortable using it.

Caring for individuals with dementia often involves managing residents' disruptive and sometimes dangerous behaviors, including screaming, hitting or kicking. Common measures used in long-term care to circumvent these aggressive acts include antipsychotic medications and personalized therapy programs. But many medications can compromise the well-being of residents, and recreational programs require significant staff time. 

A new technology developed by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Toronto is designed to help calm and engage long-term care residents with dementia and with that, improve their quality of life. Ambient Activity Technologies (AAT) are interactive tools that can be installed on a wall of a facility, where they can be easily accessed by residents with or without staff assistance. 

Each AAT unit is encased in wood and has knobs reminiscent of an old-style radio or television to provide patients with a sense of familiarity and comfort with the device. 

When a patient turns a knob or flips a switch, the unit displays personalized content such as a slideshow of family photos, games, movie clips or favorite music that has been selected by residents, family members or staff and preloaded onto the AAT unit. The device uses Bluetooth technology to recognize and connect each resident with his or her individualized programming, so it can be activated any time.

Researchers are testing the technology in six Ontario nursing homes, says Mark Chignell, Ph.D., lead investigator and a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Toronto.

“We're looking at a broad range of outcome measures, including physical activity, levels of agitation and the impact on staff,” he says. “We expect that these technologies will have a big impact on responsive behaviors and while the early results look promising, the research is still ongoing.”