5 Ways Technology Can Help Caregivers Make Connections

Are you caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia?

Learn how to use your smartphone, tablet, and other gadgets to help with reminiscing and engagement.

Caregivers can use technology to help those that they serve stay connected through personalized music, video reminiscing, and family communications.

Caregivers can use technology to help those that they serve stay connected through personalized music, video reminiscing, and family communications.

As we get older, socializing often becomes increasing challenging, for a variety of reasons - family members and children relocate, work friends are lost in retirement, and loved ones pass away.

For many older adults, mobile technologies are a welcome social and intellectual lifeline. Millions are using their smartphone or tablet to send messages, share photos, video chat, or explore topics they’re passionate about. In fact, people over the age of 65 are the fastest growing demographic when it comes to adopting technologies, such as broadband internet and smartphones.

While millions enjoy the social and cognitive benefits of using modern technology, millions more are unable to adopt or use these technologies independently, due to significant cognitive challenges, such as Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. 

Even though people living with Alzheimer’s may have difficulties using technology independently that does not mean they won’t benefit immensely from the experience of using technology with a caregiver.

Using technology to personalize the care experience helps  people living with Alzheimers’ and dementia stay connected to people, places, and passions that make them feel like themselves.

#1 - Listen to Personally Meaningful Music

Why Music?

There is a connection in the brain between personalized music and cherished memories: long-term memories, emotions, and our favorite music are connected in an area of the brain that is one of the last to be affected by the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Hearing familiar music can evoke fond memories and helps people with dementia connect to their personal histories.

Millions of people have shared inspirational stories about the power of personalized music for people living with dementia.

Teddy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2013. Like many others, he struggles with his memory - not being able to recognize his family or where he is. To calm his Dad down from the regular bursts of aggression and confusion, Teddy’s son would take him out for a drive in the car, playing his old tracks. This touching video of them singing together went viral.


How to Use Personalized Music as a Caregiver

  • Listen in the home - play old records or CDs if you still have the necessary equipment.
  • Take your music on the go - purchase a low cost MP3 player and transfer music from CD’s or digital purchases. MP3 are affordable (starting at $35,) portable, and can save hundreds of songs.
  • Listen to any song, any time - use free music services, like Spotify or YouTube, on any smartphone or tablet to search for a specific song or artist.
Save personally meaningful music to a smartphone or MP3 player, so you can take it on the go.

Save personally meaningful music to a smartphone or MP3 player, so you can take it on the go.

#2 - Watch YouTube Videos

Why YouTube?

There are billions of videos on YouTube! They span endless cultures, topics, and time periods - classic TV shows, farming videos, salsa dancing, musical performances, nature clips, travel documentaries and pretty much any other obscure interest that you can imagine. Exploring personally meaningful and entertaining content on YouTube can help facilitate conversation and enjoyable reminiscing.

There are an endless variety of topics to explore on YouTube.

There are an endless variety of topics to explore on YouTube.


How to Use YouTube as a Caregiver

Before you get started with YouTube, make sure your smartphone or tablet can connect to the internet during engagement. 

You’ll also want to do a little research in advanced. Search for topics that the care recipient might find interesting and preview videos to find quality content. Take note of the videos that you think will resonate.

When you’re ready to start, strike up a conversation about the video topic before showing a clip. Make sure to control the device and position it so that the care recipient can simply enjoy the video.

Look for opportunities to explore new topics that can help with reminiscing, including videos about past careers, pets, theatre experiences, travel, sports, art, music, and spirituality.

#3 - Share Photos with Family


Why Photo Sharing?

People with dementia lose cognitive skills, but remain very intuitive and in touch with their emotions. They instinctively feel connected and safe around family members and friends.

Reminiscing with pictures and videos of loved ones can also evoke these comforting emotions and feelings of connection.

Use email, messaging, and social media to share photos from friends and family.

Use email, messaging, and social media to share photos from friends and family.


How To Reminisce with Photos

  • Reminisce in the House - If you have access to photo albums or scrap books, pull them out and go down memory lane.
  • Go digital - Use free services like email, Facebook, iCloud, Google Photos, or Dropbox to involve family members and friends.

#4 - Have a Conversation with Alexa

Why Voice-first Speakers?

Voice-first speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home are rapidly growing in popularity. Not only are they are affordable (start at $49), but they are also easy to use and fun.

They can also be incredibly useful for caregivers. Instantly pull up favorite music or explore a topic of interest.

Use a voice-first speaker to easily access music and explore topics of interests.

How to Use a Voice-first Speaker as a Caregiver

Before using a voice-smart speaker, you will need a smartphone or tablet to connect your speaker to Wi-Fi and sign into a music service (such as Pandora or Spotify). Once your speaker is set up, keep a list of helpful commands handy. Here’s some inspiration:

  • Hey Google/Alexa, play certain artist/song/type of music
  • Hey Alexa/Google, tell me about a topic of interest
  • Hey Alexa/Google, check the weather in relevant locations
  • Hey Alexa/Google, check sports scores of favorite teams

#5 - Try Out Virtual Reality

Why Virtual Reality?

Since virtual reality is immersive, it stimulates your mind in ways the a normal screen cannot. The immersive experience can be incredibly impactful for reminiscence therapy.

From adventures  in nature to personalized travel scenes, a virtual reality headset can help a person reconnect to fond life experiences. While many virtual reality solutions can be difficult to use and lack relevant content for senior, an innovative company is building a VR experience for caregivers and care recipients to use together.


How to Use Virtual Reality as a Caregiver

Using virtual reality as a caregiver can be challenging.  Some senior living communities offer virtual reality engagement programs for residents, but if you are caring for a loved one or client in the home, purchasing, setting up and using virtual reality is cumbersome.

Maplewood Senior Living, a retirement community in Connecticut, offers virtual reality engagement activities for residents.

We suggest starting with music and tablets. Once you get comfortable personalizing engagement, then it will be easier to explore new technologies, such as virtual reality.

Over time, virtual reality will become increasingly useful for caregivers: the equipment will be less invasive, the content will be more impactful, and the price point will be more affordable.

Are you using technology as a caregiver? We'd love to hear from you; leave us a comment below!

Generation Connect helps care organizations develop personalized engagement solutions using everyday technologies. Learn more or sign up for the caregiver newsletter below.

Michael Potteiger