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Study Shows Computer Engagement Improves Life for Those with Dementia, Reduces Caregiver Stress
Engagement with bedside computers can improve life for people with dementia and lower stress for their caregivers, according to new research. Known as The Birdsong Initiative, the study was conducted among residents of the Hoy Nursing Care Center by the nonprofit life plan community Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay in conjunction with Eastern Virginia Medical School and Virginia Wesleyan College. The Hoy Nursing Care Center is in Westminster-Canterbury’s healthcare wing. The initiative was named in honor of Westminster-Canterbury Foundation board member Sue Birdsong and her husband George, who donated $228,000 to fund the project. It was conducted between June and December, 2015. The project garnered the 2016 National LeadingAge Excellence in Research and Education Award. LeadingAge is the national trade association for over 6,000 non-profit aging services providers.
The Birdsong Initiative found statistically significant improvements among participants on the Affect Balance Scale, which measures quality of life and psychological well-being. Additionally, for caregivers, there was a statistically significant reduction in stress as evaluated by the Perceived Stress Scale. Finally, the study found a statistically significant reduction in systolic blood pressure in residents using the computers. Persistently high blood pressure readings are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50, according to the American Heart Association. These findings reached the level of statistical significance, meaning there is less than a five percent chance the improvements were caused by another factor.
Other improvements were observed in some residents, but were not repeated enough to be statistically significant findings. For example, some of the memory-impaired residents taking part also experienced fewer behavioral episodes or outbursts, some experienced reduced depression, and a few even regained some cognitive function. These observations encourage us to do additional research.
During the 24-week study, a group of Hoy Center residents whose dementia makes it difficult to participate in social activities used computers to regularly access enriching content customized to their personal interests and cognitive ability. The touchscreen technology is designed to be easy for seniors and offers Skype, social networking and a spectrum of content. It was developed by a Colorado-based company. Meantime, another group of residents with dementia took part in routine personalized therapeutic recreation programs that were non-computerized. Twelve weeks into the initiative, the two groups switched roles, so that by the time the study concluded, all of the participants had used the touchscreen technology.
“This research has the potential for worldwide impact on dementia care and brain injury/brain deficit care. The current results justify widespread deployment of engagement technology. The additional potential for impact on drug use, reduction of falls, and other outcomes cry out for further study. We are on the road to game changing impact on the standard of care for brain injury, memory issues and dementia. Our team was surprised by how residents embraced the technology, far more than any of us guessed,” said Westminster-Canterbury CEO J. Benjamin Unkle, Jr. “They used the computers with student interns guiding them for five hours a week. To our astonishment, they also utilized the computers for nearly 25 hours weekly on top of the intern-assisted time. This flies in the face of conventional thinking that people with dementia cannot learn and enjoy new things. We can improve lives of those suffering with dementia through creative, non-pharmaceutical approaches.”
The Alzheimer’s Association projects that the number of Americans with dementia will rise by 40% in the coming decade; in Virginia, it is expected to increase by 46%.
“The Birdsong Initiative was the first in what we plan to be ongoing work with academia to look at new ways to improve aging for individuals and families locally and nationally,” Unkle said. “We anticipate that future work will look at a wide variety of senior issues with the goal of promoting not only longer, but also better, lives by leveraging the power of staying engaged mentally and physically. Recent research has repeatedly indicated that remaining engaged is the secret sauce to aging optimally.”
Twenty percent of Americans will be 65 or above by 2030, compared to about 14% in 2012. In Virginia, people 60 and above will represent almost 24% of the population in 2030, an increase of 30% from 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
To learn more about our research and how we can help engage your residents using the techniques from our study, please contact us at email@example.com or call 757-496-1161.
To read additional press coverage of the Birdsong Initiative visit www.wcbay.com/news.
To hear from The Birdsong Initiative’s principal investigator and see the results from the study, please watch the video below.
To learn more about the Birdsong Initiative, click below to listen to a recent interview with the study's principal Investigator and Cathy Lewis of WHRV's HearSay.
The most significant results from the Birdsong Initiative are about more than just numbers. Be amazed by Karla's story. Watch the video below.