Reporting the team's findings in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Ipsit Vahia, medical director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean Hospital, the psychiatric hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School, states...
“Tablet use as a nonpharmacologic intervention for agitation in older adults, including those with severe dementia, appears to be feasible, safe, and of potential utility.”
The research buillt upon previous studies demonstrating that art, music, and other similar therapies can effectively reduce symptoms of dementia without medication. By using tablet devices to employ these therapies, however, patients and providers also benefit from a computer’s inherent flexibility.
“The biggest advantage is versatility,” said Vahia.
“We know that art therapy can work, music therapy can work. The tablet, however, gives you the option of switching from one app to another easily, modifying the therapy seamlessly to suit the individual. You don’t need to invest in new equipment or infrastructure.”
Researchers loaded a menu of 70 apps onto the tablets for the study. The apps were freely available on iTunes and varied greatly in their cognitive complexity; from an app that displayed puppy photos to one that featured Sudoku puzzles.
The researchers found that tablet use was safe for every patient, regardless of the severity of their dementia, and that with proper supervision and training, the engagement rate with the devices was nearly 100 percent. The study also found that the tablets demonstrated significant effectiveness in reducing symptoms of agitation, particularly but not exclusively among patients with milder forms of dementia.
Vahia cited several examples of the tablet’s potential to improve a patient’s condition. One particular patient, who only spoke Romanian, was very withdrawn and irritable, and medications were ineffective in controlling his symptoms.
“We started showing him Romanian video clips on YouTube, and his behavior changed dramatically and instantaneously,” said Vahia.
“His mood improved. He became more interactive. He and his medical support team also started using a translation app so that staff could ask him simple questions in Romanian, facilitating increased interaction. These significant improvements are a clear testament of the tablet’s potential as a clinical tool.”
This research has obvious implications for anyone caring for someone with dementia. With such a vast range of apps now so easily available the use of a tablet is open to all. The ability to tailor games and activities to the interests of the individual makes it an ideal tool to capture the person's interest, stimulate, provide enjoyment and thus ultimately help calm agitation. So why not give it a go!