Dementia in the Age of Technology – A Major Concern for Our Future
Dementia is a word that oddly echoes in our minds, especially after someone we know personally has been diagnosed with the disease. Perhaps that’s why we tend to associate it with old age and certain inevitable stages of life. But this is far from the truth.
Dementia has no age boundaries. It can strike anyone at any stage of life, which is why it’s essential to understand the various types of dementia and how technology can help mitigate its impact on individuals and humankind as a species.
It is a broad term used when describing several illnesses that gradually impair memory, reasoning, understanding, language, and speech. Each case has various indications, including recollection, difficulty with reasoning, inability to understand visual or verbal information, inability to speak clearly or fluently, and problems with planning or solving problems.
Dementia in the Aging Population
The fastest-growing part of society is the ageing population, and dementia is on the rise alongside it. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s latest statistics, 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease which gradually impairs memory and other cognitive abilities. By 2050, the figure is predicted to rise to 16 million.
Sadly, it has no cure, and growing older does not protect one from its onset. As people live longer thanks to advancements in healthcare and nutrition, their risk of dementia increases significantly. The average age of onset is when people are in their 70s.
While it’s true that it is more prevalent among the elderly, this does not mean younger individuals cases occur in people under 65.
It is referred to as “young-onset” or “early-onset” dementia, with the most common subtypes being early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia. In the younger population, there are other underlying causes of dementia, such as brain injury, certain metabolic diseases, and vitamin B12 deficiency.
The most well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth most common cause of death in the United States. It is characterized by the accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain, leading to reduced memory, language problems, and disorientation.
According to current research, the decline in cognitive abilities is due to a lack of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, in which symptoms first appear after age 60.
It is believed that the underlying cause is a buildup of amyloid-beta protein in the brain. The disease is diagnosed when a certain level of protein is found in the blood, but it’s important to note that not everyone with higher levels will develop the disease.
This form of dementia results from damage to the blood vessels in the brain. Several causes can contribute to this harm, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. Symptoms of vascular dementia include impaired reasoning, difficulty completing daily tasks, and inability to recognize loved ones.
People often confuse vascular dementia with Alzheimer’s because the symptoms are identical. The main difference, however, is that vascular dementia does not cause the formation of amyloid plaques or neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.
This type affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which deal with decision-making, reasoning, emotion, language, and the ability to understand visual information. People with frontotemporal have varying symptoms depending on the part of the brain affected and the rate at which the disease progresses. Some of the most common symptoms include problems with finding words, poor hygiene, social withdrawal, and impulsiveness.
TDP – Temporal Lobe Prosthesis
This is a device that has proven to be a life-changing treatment for people with frontotemporal dementia who suffer from severe language and speech problems. The device is implanted in the brain and is connected to electrodes that stimulate a specific area of the brain, which in turn helps the person communicate.
The patient controls the device and is used in situations when words fail them. Since brain stimulation is a new technology, many researchers are afraid to recommend it to all patients with frontotemporal dementia, especially since the Food and Drug Administration has not authorized it. However, given its positive effect on patients who have tried all other treatments, many physicians believe it is worth the risk.
Electronic Care Assistants (ECA)
These assistive technologies are designed to help individuals with dementia and other cognitive disabilities live independently at home by communicating with family members and healthcare providers. ECAs are computers programmed with a calendar, daily schedule, reminders, and safety features to help individuals with dementia manage their daily activities independently.
They can help individuals with dementia take their medication on time and notify loved ones when they need assistance. ECAs can also be programmed to send reminders for regular activities like eating, exercising, and taking the dog for a walk.
Most ECAs are connected to the internet and can be set up to help individuals check the weather, read the news, track their finances, and even book doctor’s appointments. ECA’s can also be used for cognitive rehabilitation therapy, which aims to improve an individual’s cognitive abilities by engaging their brain in new activities.
As we progress into the 21st century, it’s important to understand the various types of dementia and how technology can help mitigate its impact on individuals and society. With the world becoming more digitized, it’s only natural that healthcare is being transformed.
Telemedicine and remote monitoring are now an integral part of treatment, and smart home devices provide caregivers with more flexibility. With these technologies, we can better monitor an individual’s condition, communicate with them remotely, and even intervene in an emergency.
This is especially helpful for people who live alone and need care but are unable to go to the hospital or visit a doctor in person. Given the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, genomics, and other technologies, it is likely that we will have even more tools to help people with dementia live their lives to the fullest in the future.