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International Teamwork to Fight Alzheimer’s

The United States along with Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom released its National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease and initiative started by the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA). The plan is to increase funding and manpower to discover more effective ways to treat and help Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers to better cope with the disease.

NAPA asks other countries who have already implemented their own plans for help to combat the disease. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has vowed to meet with representatives from other nations, hoping that a collaboration with foreign officials will help generate effective and unique ways to tackle the Alzheimer’s epidemic. This part of the plan isn’t likely to get as much press as the premier goal to develop an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s by the year 2025, but it does present a windfall of potential help worldwide for those dealing with the disease. Most countries share the similar goal of eliminating Alzheimer’s, but different nations have different strategies for helping people cope.

In the U.K., the Department of Health recently teamed up with the Design Council to develop, “Living well with dementia,” a design program challenging people to create products and services aimed to make life better for those with dementia.

The Design Council announced the challenge’s top five designs nominated for further development. These designs include products like: “Ode,” a scented alarm to help stimualate appetites in those who have lost theirs. ‘Dementia Dogs,’ are canine companions who are trained to help those with mild dementia complete daily tasks like waking up, taking medications, and going to the bathroom.

Ode to a good meal

The challenge of enticing an elderly loved one to eat is not exclusive to those caring for people with dementia, but the memory-robbing nature of the disease can make it difficult for seniors to remember whether they’ve already eaten, or even to feel hungry at all.

This dilemma compelled Rodd, a U.K. design firm, to create the “Ode,” a tabletop machine that releases food aromas at strategic times throughout the day. Ode’s scents include Bakewell tart (an English dessert), spice, and citrus. When released around mealtimes, these odors that have been shown to play a role in appetite stimulation in people with dementia.

Preliminary testing indicates that the Ode model has shown promise. In some cases, people with dementia who had Ode placed in their rooms had a 39 percent increase in positive eating behaviors such as requesting second helpings and weight gain.

The creators of Ode envision their concept expanding to products that possibly help manage moods and increase concentration in people with the dementia.

Fido facilitates living with dementia

More and more people are being diagnosed with dementia in its early stages meaning they can still perform many of daily activities without much assistance.

The problem is that dementia can cause these people to lose more than just their memory. They may also lose their sense of routine and responsibility, as well as their place in the community.

To help these people reconnect with the outside world, members of the Glasgow School of Art teamed up with Alzheimer’s Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, and Guide Dogs U.K., to come up with the concept of a ‘dementia dog’ for people in the mild stages of the disease.

From a practical standpoint, these specially-trained pooches will be able to do things like wake their owners up, deliver bite-proof pouches of prescription pills, and remind them to do things like eat.

A video promoting the project on the Design Council’s website claims that the dogs may also, “act as an anchor,” for a person with dementia, helping them feel more comfortable in their homes as well as in the outside world.

The dementia dog design team hopes that just by walking the dog, seniors with the disease will be able to engage more with other people in their community.

Pilot testing of the dementia dog program is projected to begin by the end of this year.

The caregiver creative

The “Living well with dementia” design challenge produced some exciting new ideas, unfortunately, most of these ideas are still in the developmental stages. This is an approach the U.S. has not yet taken in its battle with Alzheimer’s, but could in the future. The logic behind the U.K. challenge’s model is sound. By seeking input from a variety of people involved in the eldercare field—caregivers included—the designers were able to gain valuable insight into what life is like for the elderly, and those who care for them. As a caregiver, you have first-hand knowledge of challenges of taking care of someone with a chronic illness.