Knowing the signs of dementia is not part of our general cultural practice, or rather, such knowledge is not part of our everyday reality until it becomes part of our lives for personal reasons. For the many who live the day-to-day realities of congenital illness, life-threatening disease, and health issues that others only see on TV, it’s a truism that our societies in the west tend to segregate enormously on the basis of health. For most everyone who is a carer or the individual struggling with health issues, there is life before and a life after such health issues emerged. While we often think of “culture” in terms of cultural and historical traditions, there is also a culture out there, invisible to many, of those who are struggling with health issues like Alzheimer’s.
Thanks largely to new technology, these cultural divisions between those struggling with illness and the rest of society are slowly melting away. For instance, diagnostic apps such as the Geriatric Depression and Dementia Scale (GDDS) developed by a research team from Stanford University, brings the reality that dementia is something that any of us could possibly suffer from. Add to this the brain training apps and various appsspecifically designed for the patient suffering from dementia, we are seeing new technology bring Alzheimer’s into the larger discussion of health where we are not uniquely treating healthcare as something that we only do preventatively.
The design of online platforms and apps for mHealth (mobile health) to manage health issues is quickly becoming one of the most revolutionary uses of new technology. Mahbod Azadian, the founder of Mosaikx, is an authority in the industry of consumer technology. An online intelligent platform for senior care which connects the patients of Alzheimer’s to their caregivers, Mosaikx promises to lead the way in healthcare technology that allows family members to know that their loved ones are in good hands, while the elderly are encouraged to gain independence, form daily routines and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Azadian’s approach is to take the complexity of new technology and put it towards practical uses such as his Mosaikx platform which will enhance the lives of any number of the approximately 44 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s.
As Alzheimer’s Disease affects 10 percent of people over the age of 65, it is a slow and tedious disease. New technology is changing how our societies think about Alzheimer’s while also offering challenges to the ostensible fixity of diagnoses and treatments. The true potential of online platforms and apps bring to mHealth the promise Craig Mills, group managing director of Frontera Group, a London-based group which specializes in patient behavior, speaks about the human factor which is crucial for the mHealth industry stating, “So, if life expectancy and health behavior are directly correlated, it should follow that if we can create an environment where people are more active within their health, we can influence their health-related quality of life at a population level.”
For instance, there is research that demonstrates improved memory training results such as the 2014 study, Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), during which 2,832 older adults played a speed-training game where they had to identify objects at increasingly faster rates. The results of this study showed a 50 percent decline in dementia risk among participants which many apps today targeting Alzheimer’s are able to mimic the lessons learned by this study. There are myriad studies on the role of mHealth apps specific to Alzheimer’s and those geared towards the general spectrum of wellness and mHealth monitoring. What’s interesting is that the use of these apps to treat Alzheimer’s is no longer rhetorical as many of these apps have been tested and have been shown to be effective in combatting memory loss, ensuring safety, improving awareness and facilitating patients’ daily activities.
Other apps out there are helping family members interact with their loved ones. One such app is Timeless, created by a 14-year-old Hongkonger, Emma Yang, who sought to bring an artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition system to help Alzheimer’s patients identify people in photos and remember who they are. There are also apps which allow people who have no idea what it is like to have Alzheimer understand the condition better such as A Walk Through Dementia. These and many other apps attempt to bridge that cultural gap that separates those of us who have no idea what dementia looks like from those dealing with this disease constantly.
Maja Daniels, a Swedish photographer, spent three photographing individuals within a geriatric hospital in the northwest of France. Daniels ended up focussing the fixation with many of these seniors to investigate the door keeping them from the outside world and the photographs are quite demonstrative of the sorts of walls (and doors) that separate our world of health and obsession with the self from the rest who struggle with serious uphill battles from which most will never exit. Daniel beautifully captures the division Alzheimer’s inflicts upon its sufferers as well as problematizing confinement as a solution. Though analog art, Daniels’ project speaks to how new technology can address humanely these walls that persist between our divided communities.
Hopeful mHealth technology will create new bridges where we can discuss openly strategies for helping the elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s without repeating some of history’s lamentable treatments of the chronically ill.