New interactive tool for those with dementia

Cedarwood Village resident Ralph Fralick interacts with the ABBY machine. His wife, Mary Fralick, and program assistant, Becky Bollert, are able to interact with him and the machine together. Ashley Taylor/Delhi News Record

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Technology is being used to help a generation that grew up without it.

Ralph Fralick, a resident at Cedarwood Village in Simcoe, and his wife Mary are among those benefiting from modern technology.

Cedarwood installed an ABBY machine in the dementia unit in December 2018.

The ABBY, created by Ambient Activity Technologies, augments the environment for those with mid to late stage dementia by providing experiences such as petting a cat, turning a wheel, or flipping a switch.

“He loves it, especially the car one, because he had to give up his licence,” said Mary.

Each of these physical interactions is met by a visual or audible display on the machine.

Mary said she is able to interact with Ralph and the machine, creating quality time together.

“Other residents will walk by when we’re here and they’ll want to use it too, so it’s really interacting with everybody,” said Mary, who lives in the attached Cedarwood apartment buildings and is able to visit Ralph regularly.

Cedarwood staff has noticed changes in many of the residents that interact with the ABBY, noting a little less responsive behaviours, and more cognition in working with the interactive device.

“It’s really made a difference down here in the lounge because it gives them something to interact with and engage them rather than just sitting around,” said Sherri Young, the program manager at Cedarwood Village. “It’s very good for mental aerobics because you’re using your brain in doing some of these different activities.”

The creators of the ABBY suggest putting it in a highly visited area. Cedarwood has placed it in the lounge of the unit. As residents wander by they often stop to interact with the technology.

“Technology can be confusing for people with dementia, but it can also be beneficial,” said Susan Cuming, public education co-ordinator at the Alzheimer Society of Haldimand Norfolk.

“As people move into long-term care machines such as the ABBY and other interactive technologies are so beneficial,” she said.

Cuming said there are multiple pieces of technology that can be helpful for both people with dementia and their caregivers.

There are applications that allow caregivers to turn off appliances such as stoves from out of the home. There are also tracking devices that can be worn, helping the 60 per cent of people with dementia that are known to be wanderers.

The Alzheimer Society offers a program called Music for Memory, which has similar goals to the ABBY. They load iPods with people’s personal music collection to help people with dementia connect with old feelings.

“People don’t lose memories, they lose access to them,” said Cuming. “Things like the ABBY and the iPods help to reconnect with things that they enjoy, and things that they’re familiar with.”

There are fewer than 10 ABBY units installed in Ontario.

 

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