Video chats trim aggression for residents with dementia

Conversations via Skype lasted longer, and reduced agitation.
Conversations via Skype lasted longer, and reduced agitation.

Video chatting with relatives over the internet may reduce the risk of nursing home residents with dementia becoming agitated or aggressive, according to research out of Monash University in Australia. The findings appear in the journal International Psychogeriatrics.

Researchers in a pilot study randomly assigned skilled nursing dementia patients to take part in four 20-minute conversations with a family member, conducted either via a landline phone or as video calls via Skype. The calls occurred over the course of two weeks. A discreetly positioned research assistant recorded each resident's level of agitated behavior for the 40 minutes before and during each conversation. 

Results showed conversations lasted longer via Skype compared to the audio-only calls. Participants also displayed less agitation during the Skype calls.

“Our findings suggest … that combining visual with auditory sensory inputs captures attention and reduces agitated behaviors more effectively than auditory input alone,” said Daniel O'Connor, M.D., a psychiatry professor at Monash University and the study's lead author. 

While he noted that additional research is still needed to prove that the link is statistically significant, O'Connor said Skype warrants further exploration as a way to improve quality-of-life among patients with dementia. 

“Many nursing homes now provide internet access to residents' rooms, so it makes sense to harness new digital technology to help cognitively impaired residents engage more fully with family members between visits,” he said.

Videoconferencing with skilled nursing residents with dementia is not without its limitations, however. It requires another individual to help the resident — a factor that puts additional strain on caregivers. It also requires facilities to invest in high-speed and wireless internet, which some may find to be cost prohibitive.