People with dementia progressively lose independence and autonomy, causing a sharp increase in the burden of their care. Innovative assistive technologies such as cell phones for seniors with dementia help decrease the burden of care and increase independence.
Is There a Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?
As the world’s population is rapidly increasing, the number of seniors and elderly with cognitive impairment is also growing. It is anticipated that the current 47 million people globally experiencing dementia is projected to triple by 2050 (WHO 2017).
Dementia is not a specific disease but a general term for cognitive decline that causes the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with daily activities. It is an umbrella term encompassing many diagnoses, including Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common dementia condition. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging (CDC 2022)
People with dementia experience not only cognitive, but psychological changes. They can benefit from support for more complex tasks in the early stages, but as the disease progresses, people become fully dependent on others to complete even basic activities of daily living (PubMed 2017). The disease can impact a person’s problem-solving skills, capacity for keeping up with routine tasks like paying bills and ability to remember where they put their wallet or phone. People with dementia are also more susceptible to phone scams.
Benefits of Cell Phones
Many older adults who struggle with memory issues often find cell phones hard to use. It is not uncommon for them to refuse to use them, however, cell phones can help them remember the date, time, phone numbers of family members, and other important information.
Many forms of dementia initially affect short-term memory, while the onset of long-term memory loss is exhibited much later. For older adults who live alone, a cell phone can be an essential part of their ability to communicate. A reliable cell phone helps alleviate communication barriers, giving them an easy way to keep in touch with family, friends, and health professionals.
Cell phones for seniors with dementia have the following basic features – large buttons, bright screens, powerful speakers and some form of emergency assistance.
Unique Phone Problems Faced by the Elderly with Dementia
Seniors and the elderly with dementia encounter two unique problems when they try to navigate the functions of an average cell phone many of which are not user-friendly enough for this condition. The stage of dementia and the accompanying behaviors should guide the choice of a cell phone. Someone with mild cognitive impairment may be able to manage a smartphone relatively easily while another person with middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease might have difficulty.
Losing the phone:
Seniors with dementia can become highly agitated or stressed when they either misplace or lose a phone due to forgetfulness. Pouches or cell phone cases that can be worn around the neck like a lanyard may help seniors with dementia keep track of their phones.
Forgetting phone numbers:
This is a common trait of dementia. Phones for people with dementia typically allow for programming only with important numbers, such as those of their children and emergency services, pairing photos with contact cards and disabling internet functions.
How to Choose the Best Cell Phone for Seniors with Dementia
Features to consider when looking for the best option for seniors with dementia.
1. Simple, Easy to Use Functions
Simplicity of ease of accessibility of functions is a top criterion. Calling and text messages are usually the most important functions for seniors with dementia, so ensuring simplicity of these tasks is paramount. Furthermore, having simple volume control and an on/off button are also helpful. Some brands even go a step further and have the home screen always in the on mode, so the phone never locks, require a pass code, and never falls asleep because it is always ready to use.
2. Easy to Read Screen with Big Buttons and Numbers
Cell phones with big buttons and easy-to-read, large numbers are usually the most helpful for seniors with dementia. This is because some older adults may have difficulty with the swipe function. Being able to readily navigate the phone provides these seniors with a sense of independence.
3. Voice-Activated Calling
Phones with Siri or Google voice activation software can make calling easier, as well as help the user set helpful reminders and make notes for later. They can however create frustration for those with impaired speech
Long-Lasting Battery Life
The phone should have a long-lasting battery life. This is especially important for seniors with dementia where the user may forget to charge the phone. If the user misplaces it or forgets to recharge the phone, the long battery life will ensure longer periods of connectivity
1. Emergency Functions
An SOS or emergency function is very helpful—not only if the user gets lost, but also in the event of an emergency like a fall or a fire. This function can eliminate the need for multiple safety devices, giving seniors fewer items to keep track of at any given time.
2. Controlled Access of Incoming Callers
“Do Not Disturb” mode is a safety feature that can be used to allow only certain people to contact the user, which can reduce the risk of scammer phone calls, or telemarketers. This feature limits incoming calls to only trusted contact in the directory. .
Inclusion of Brain Training Memory Apps
Patients with dementia who are tech savy and can navigate apps can use the camera to take photos to help remind them of things (addresses, names, and addresses), make lists (things to do or buy) and refer to a calendar when necessary. Such tools can help a senior with dementia retain some autonomy.
Mobile technologies can partially compensate for decreased function owing to dementia. Cell phones for seniors with dementia help decrease the burden of care and increase their independence.
World Health Organization. 2017. [2018-12-16]. 10 Facts on Dementia http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/dementia/en/
D’Onofrio G, et al (2017). Information and communication technologies for the activities of daily living in older patients with dementia: a systematic review. J Alzheimers Dis. 57(3):927–35. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28304297/
Bon Mi Koo, et al (2019) Examining Mobile Technologies to Support Older Adults With Dementia Through the Lens of Personhood and Human Needs: Scoping Review JMIR.7(11): e15122.
CDC (2022) What is Dementia? https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html