By Elena Muller
In the United States today, there are more than 5.5 million people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, and the number is continually growing. As the baby boomer generation ages, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will increase, not only affecting the lives of those living with the disease, but also the lives of caregivers and the healthcare system as a whole. Telehealth has great potential to improve the standard of care for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Helping the Patient with Alzheimer’s Stay at Home with Telehealth
How can we use the positive strides in innovative treatments and technologies to help Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers and providers? One of the answers lies in telehealth, and an accompanying transformation of the traditional model of care.
The traditional model of care for patients with Alzheimer’s relies on long term residential care with a focus on the relationship between the patient and the primary care provider. Getting the patient to the clinician’s office can be extremely complicated, presenting challenges for the caregiver and the patient. This is especially true in rural areas where medical care may be far from where the patient/caregiver live, but also poses logistical challenges in urban and suburban areas as well.
For the Alzheimer’s patient, especially in the early stages of the disease, telehealth can provide an answer to this difficult problem. With the use of telehealth, the patient can be seen by a specialist who may be hundreds of miles away without the need to travel the distance to the clinician’s office.
In addition, telehealth helps the patient stay at home, prioritizing “aging in place,” something 89% of Americans over age 50 prefer. Telehealth has proven to be a helpful vehicle for facilitating aging in place by providing patient treatment and monitoring in the home. Telehealth allows for the patient to remain in the home while receiving care, ensuring continuity of the care environment and avoiding a change that may trigger unfavorable patient behaviors or reactions, such as anxiety, confusion and agitation.
Telehealth also has been proven to improve patient safety within the home, with researchers citing medication reminders, wandering-prevention tracking, and caregiver education support as uses of telehealth technologies that result in enhanced patient safety. One study found that certain tracking programs reduced the risk of nighttime falls by nearly 49%, while another found that the use of video monitoring was shown to increase the likelihood of medication compliance among dementia-afflicted patients living alone.
Other examples of existing telehealth/electronic applications include electronic applications providing reminders (medication management prompting devices), social contract (cell phones, online chat groups) and safety (alarm systems, monitoring system, wayfinding and action triggered lighting).