Brain Connections via Digital Connection

As the CDC continues to promote that older adults are safer at home, those of us caring for an individual with dementia may be finding our routines are suffering from lack of cognitive and social connections. Research specific to dementia care partners is still sparse, but anecdotally we are hearing care partners expressing sadness, anxiety and depression resulting from isolation.

Those who had routines that included live memory cafes, social gatherings and even adult day attendance are struggling with the prolonged isolation that has resulted from staying at home as protection from COVID-19. Almost three months in, some of us have found outlet in digital connection, others of us have continued to struggle. Meanwhile those of us in the profession are seeing increases in caregiver stress, dementia behaviors and overall cognitive decline. Where to turn?

Digital connections continue to prove very positive for caregivers of older adults in general.1 In a study reviewing digital mental health tools, three categories were found to be most available:

  • Building skills
  • Educating caregivers
  • Assisting with caregiving duties

All three proved to be positive for overall caregiver health, but the majority were focused on younger caregivers. Resources for older caregivers and those caring for an individual with dementia were less numerous, but contributed to a reduction in caregiver burden and an increase in dementia education.

Both the Alzheimer’s Association and Arden Courts have been forerunners in adapting dementia caregiver support and education since COVID-19 precautions began. From dementia training, to educational webinars, support groups and even memory cafes—there are digital options for you to boost your safer at home routine. For those who are caring at home for a loved one, virtual memory cafes are a great way to connect socially with others on the journey as well as engage in creative and engaging projects together. These range from songfests to education to reminiscence.

Research looking at digital reminiscence apps revealed some interesting results. It was found that care partners were more likely to reminisce after generic music and photos than they were after personal music and photos.2 Meanwhile care partners were more likely to reminisce later in the day than earlier. As in all research, there is much more to be investigated, but it confirms the value of digital reminiscence and generic music and photos.

If you are struggling with digital technology, consider asking a younger family member or friend to coach you through the steps. Younger generations have had much more exposure to digital technology and can be helpful tutors.

Tablets, smart television and digital connections are proving to be our best defense against brain stagnation and social isolation. For enticing digital programs and support access the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org or arden-courts.com. 

Footnotes

1Petrovic, M. & Gaggioli, A. 2020. Digital mental health tools for caregivers of older adults-a scoping review, Frontiers of Public Health, 28; 8:128.

2 Potts, C., Bond, R., Assumpta, R., Mulvenna, M., McCauley, C. et al. 2020. Evaluating the use of Ecological Momentary Assessment within a digital health intervention for reminiscence: How do people living with dementia and their carers engage? Journal of Internet Medical Research Mhealth Uhealth, May 14, doi: 10.2196/17120. Online ahead of print.

About Cate

Passionate about dementia care and quality of life throughout the last days of life----sums up Cate McCarty, Dr. Cate, Dementia Coach. With close to forty years of long-term care experience in nursing and recreation, a Master's in Thanatology and a PhD in Aging Studies, Dr. Cate seizes every opportunity to translate research into quality of life for individuals with dementia and all of us who have the honor to "rub elbows" with them.
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