Dementia is the dark cloud that lingers just beyond America’s horizon.
Every day 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation turn 65 and enter the age with the greatest risk of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
There are already 5 million sufferers in the U.S., and a host of other ghastly facts and figures–such as the fact that Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined–that tell of the coming gloom as the boomer bubble at the heart of the American population moves into its twilight years.
But wherever humanity has encountered crisis it has found ingenuity.
A team of researchers in Boston has discovered a new way to reach out to the professional caregivers who are invaluable to dementia sufferers and improve the lives of patients, nurses, and families.
The Saddest Side Effects
It’s a fact seldom discussed, but one common side effect of the behavioral changes inflicted upon dementia sufferers is a sudden surge in aggressive behavior. More than 1 in 3 people living with dementia become prone to outbursts of verbal and physical violence.
Sadly, this can happen to people who never displayed such behavior prior to falling ill.
Within a nursing home setting, where increasing patient loads in turn create increasing demands on staff–and more than 700,000 nurses are expected to retire from the industry within a decade, further adding to the aging dilemma–physical outbursts can cause great stress and anxiety for nurses, other residents, and families. And there’s also the threat of physical danger.
Typically the response to these outbursts is to administer antipsychotic drugs, or to place the patient in restraints, for their own safety and that of the people around them. But these responses come at the expense of a patient’s health, independence, and dignity.
Better Care Through Video Conferencing
Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center recently discovered that the use of restraints and powerful drugs on patients with dementia can be significantly reduced through the video conferencing.
The team established regular video conferencing meetings with the staff of 11 nursing homes in Massachusetts and Maine, putting them in direct contact with geriatric care specialists and behavioral scientists for two hours at a time to discuss patient cases and treatments.
This expert team was able to share the latest research and best practice procedures with a staff who would usually be too busy with their day-to-day activities to travel to the workshops and conferences that normally divulge such secrets.
The results of this 18-month intervention, as published in the May issue of Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, were a massive 75% reduction in the use of restraints, and a 17% reduction in the use of antipsychotic drugs.
That’s a remarkable example of how video conferencing technology can be harnessed to facilitate human conversation and person-to-person education. And the benefit to patients, staff, and families alike is untold. Just think of the emotional distress that is avoided by all concerned every time a family visits a patient who is receiving treatment that no longer involves physical restraints or heavy drugs.
Better Video Conferencing Applications
The technology being used in the Beth Israel example need not be anything cutting-edge or expensive.
It’s video conferencing in its most basic form, using just the built-in camera on a laptop (or a small specialized camera), and a basic video conferencing platform (Skype will work) that can handle multiple callers. What was key is that nursing home staff, especially those far removed from major medical centers, could get face time with the experts who could help.
And that’s why there’s so much potential here for expansion into other fields. Video conferencing could mean that juvenile detention center guards, social workers, and administrators could copy the Beth Israel model and establish routine video meetings with behavioral specialists to discuss how to better handle difficult inmates.
The system could also be applied to police stations with holding cells, especially those in small towns. Again, local officers could call on expert psychiatrists or medical professionals to gain a better understanding of the behaviors of those suddenly placed under their care. Maybe that ranting guy has an anger problem, or maybe he’s just off his medication? Police aren’t psychiatrists, but they could call on one.
All that really remains is the organizational skills and willingness to give it a trial.