Technology and Dementia: My AAIC17 Experience

Kalgera CEO Dr Dexter Penn reports on the highlights


The distinguished panel addressing the Technology Interest Group at  2017 AAIC in London, UK

The distinguished panel addressing the Technology Interest Group at  2017 AAIC in London, UK

It was my first time at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) and I wanted to share some insights into my experience. There were so many fantastic presentations at this Pre-conference ranging from robotics to voice recognition, as well as data driven personalised diagnostics and care.

What really stood out was the concept of person-centred design and the way iterative design works in practice. As we continue to develop Kalgera, I draw on my passion to improve its design for older people but I was humbled to understand that more features don't necessarily equal a better product.

Less really can be more.

Our priority must be actively listening to the people who will use any technology we create, which means going beyond just simply asking what they think about a button's position. We have to listen to their life experience, so we can really understand their problems, priorities, social situation and how they individually define positive outcomes.

Even after our careful research and development work tailoring Kalgera’s design to our users, we still need to obtain and maintain their engagement. This is the only way to truly ensure that our users will see any improvement in their quality of life. This rings true in my experience of supporting my patients and my own parents. Therefore, we must seriously consider an older user's lived experience during Kalgera’s explore-and-build stage.

Good design may not be enough...
— Dr Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Department of Psychology, Washington State University, USA

To boost engagement, the following barriers to adoption must be considered and explored with open and honest dialogue to understand how these factors may impact individual users.

Barriers to technology adoption

1. Costs We need to ensure the right technology is used, while making sure it’s within reach of the users or the means of founders. It should also be in a format that is most familiar to users.

2. Privacy We need to ensure balance is achieved between maintaining privacy and sensible data sharing to safeguard the interests of older people.

3. Insurance coverage Although less relevant in the UK, this can have a major impact on users of other health systems. Developers need to think about how their product or service supports organisations and individuals to meet their goals.

4. Support and training for users, caregivers and healthcare professionals At the age 80, Joyce “Grandma” Williams learned how to use a computer, develop an online presence with her wonderful blog and use social media. Time and patience can master many activities that at first seem insurmountable.

5. Social influence Older people need positive reinforcement to continue using technology and we must break social stereotypes. People sharing their stories, challenges and solutions have a positive effect on breaking these stereotypes and are pivotal to building confidence to boost engage.

6. Self-efficacy Inertia and habit tend to strengthen in older people. How can older people develop new habits that allow the technology to do the job for them? Can passive, behind-the-scenes automated monitoring and notification systems break old habits and improve the adoption of new ones?

7. Stigma and self-image Consider whether the cost of using your technology is prohibitive or whether any stigma surrounding cognitive impairment will put off older people from using a dementia-specific application.

Final thought Does self-image play into this? Are some older people in denial about their needs for enabling technologies that support positive aging and independent living? Some older people might feel that technology just is not for them, believing (wrongly) that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.