Alzheimer's disease (AD) represents one of the gravest burdens on the economy and moral conscious of society. In the U.S., more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care were attributed to AD in 2015, and when combined with all other forms of dementia, AD will cost more than $236 billion in 2016, reports the Alzheimer's Association. Sadly, one in three seniors will not survive this battle.
The outlook for AD treatment is not completely bleak. It is filled with promising new technologies and advancements in medication treatment, and even mobile technology could become part of the next wave of AD treatment. The applications of these technologies go beyond treatment and include many wondrous possibilities. So, you need to understand how today's technology is already being leveraged against AD to improve senior care and health.
Researchers Create an Implant That May Protect Against AD
Part of the horrible symptoms of AD is the result of plaque buildup, which disrupts neural signals within the brain. In recent years, researchers have found a direct link between this build up and the presence of the protein, amyloid beta (amyloid-β), explains Science Daily. Unfortunately, the only known way to reduce amyloid-β levels is through "repeated vaccine injections."
Repeated injections can have dangerous side effects. Each injection poses a possible infection risk, and seniors may even forget to take their medications when living independently. However, researchers have devised an implant that can deliver the injections automatically.
How Does the Implant Function?
The implant is a capsule that delivers a constant flow of amyloid-β antibodies, similar to implants used for birth control. The capsule is made up of genetically enhanced cells that produce antibodies, and the normal circulatory function of the person keeps these cells alive.
Adaptability of the implant is what makes this breakthrough unique. The implant only needs to be able to infuse antibodies into the bloodstream, so it could theoretically be placed anywhere in the arms, legs or even beneath the skin of the chest. Since seniors may have impaired blood flow to certain appendages, the implant can easily be removed or replaced as needed. Furthermore, the implant can deliver antibody doses over an extended period of time.
Who Can Receive the Implant?
Currently, the implant is not being used in human trials, and it has only been tested in mice. However, the study does prove the concept can work, and researchers are already beginning to expand on how the implant could be alternatively designed.
For example, the implant could be modified to deliver changing doses of amyloid-β antibodies via mobile technology.
Is a Mobile-Based Technology Applicable to an AD Implant?
Yes. Mobile technologies are already being applied in the everyday health of people. Consider Medtronic's MiniMed® Connect, which pairs an insulin pump with a user's smartphone, enabling better management of diabetes. Similarly, physicians may use smartphone apps to monitor a senior's vital signs remotely, or remind seniors of upcoming appointments.
So, the leap between an implanted device to prevent AD and mobile technology is not as strange as it seems. The implant could be designed similar to a pacemaker. While it may appear slightly bulky beneath the skin, it could deliver life-saving antibodies to seniors who are experiencing cognitive decline associated with the onset of AD. Mobile technology can also be applied before an implant is ever truly needed.
Gamification of Apps Helps Senior Caregivers Recognize Cognitive Decline
Think about a puzzle or other strategic game for your smartphone.
It can track the time spent on the app, how quickly a puzzle was completed, what mistakes may have been made along the way and what strategies can be used to improve success in the future. Now, this is just a simple game, yet those exact factors are common to assessing cognitive function. In other words, a senior may see the app as entertainment, but it actually provides insight into how well a senior's mind is functioning to caregivers.
Keeping the mind engaged in social interactions and critical-thinking activities is key to lowering the risk of developing AD, asserts the National Institute on Aging. In fact, a large-scale study found seniors who spent the most time engaged in routine, daily activities, such as playing puzzles, reading newspapers, listening to the TV or radio and visiting museums, had a 47-percent lower risk of developing AD.
The connection between real-world engagement and apps is simple. These routine activities have become a central point of the app-based world, and more of today's apps, including Facebook, Twitter, news-based apps, and YouTube, enable users to communicate with one another.
Studies on the effect of apps for cognitive functioning are a relatively new concept in senior care. A comprehensive review of studies in this group found promising results. The repeated use of gamification in apps that focus on encouraging memory and critical-thinking skills have been shown to improve cognitive function across 33 independent studies, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Meanwhile, future studies could be applied to exercise apps as exercise relates to a lower AD risk as well.
There are few things more tragic in life than waking up and not knowing who you are, where you are or who is around you. Yet, seniors living with AD must face these challenges with greater severity with each passing day. However, modernity is starting to produce some true innovations in how society fights AD, and these possibilities are turning into realities. The lives taken by this disease can never be replaced, but we can do something about those who have yet to live their darkest days.
In your role as a senior care training provider or executive in your company, ensure your staff members understand the importance of encouraging seniors to "play with" apps that evoke critical thinking and memory. Even if the apps are new to the market, they could be part of the link in preventing the worsening or onset of Alzheimer's.
Ultimately, preventing cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's goes back to making sure your team knows how to fight it with the resources available. Since smartphones are readily available, your team can do something to help prevent AD regardless of their specific role or skillset in caring for seniors.