Some years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I remember it started innocuously enough, forgetting words in conversation, thinking it was just a little old-age forgetfulness. But what followed was a long and arduous journey that so many others in her position have faced – the gradual decline of memory, function and ultimately, identity. But Gran was one of the lucky ones; she wasn’t alone in this. My grandfather – her devoted husband – was with her every step of the way.
So much discussion is given to the suffering and pain that those with dementia experience – but there can be no doubt that the stress and sacrifice that the primary carers must cope with is equally distressing and highly demanding. I believe this is particularly true when the carer is the lifelong partner. They are thrust into a world of high responsibility – they become 24/7 carers, and of course, they are not allowed to complain. Worst of all, despite being physically able they become trapped in their own homes – too scared to leave their loved one alone for fear of accident, and unwilling or unable to deal with the effort required to take them out.
So while the medical researchers are working hard in their labs to find potential cures, it’s wonderful to see how modern consumer technology is stepping up to make life better not just for the sufferers but also for the carers. Thanks to advances in home automation, tablets, and smartphone apps, the shackles are being lifted from live-in carers, enabling them to get out of the house and get on with their lives without feeling guilty or worried about their loved ones at home. Because these carers – just like my grandfather – need their independence too, they need their own time just as much as the rest of us; they need to be able to do the things we take for granted – from something as simple as popping to the shops to attending his beloved weekly choir and bowls events with his friends.
So how does it work? Well with everything from simple one-touch screens to start phone and video calls, through to in-home monitoring linked to a carers smartphone they can keep a careful eye on both home and inhabitant. Is the smoke alarm going off? Has the gas been left on? Is there still movement in the house? Are regular patterns being followed and has medication being taken at the right time? All these things can be cheaply and easily monitored – and powered by smart computer algorithms carers can both communicate with and get alerted when things are not ok.
All this technology came too late for my grandad – but there are thousands of others today who are stuck in the same boat. These technologies have the potential to be a life-raft for them.