Lessons from a Gerontologist: Part II

I’ve had the good fortune of working with various mentors throughout my life.  Despite spending countless hours collaborating through FaceTime, Skype and phone calls over the past year, I've yet to meet my latest mentor in person.

I was introduced to Debby Dodds a year ago, as she was piloting a program at the Santa Cruz Public Library to help people with dementia and their caregivers.  While studying for her Master’s in gerontology, Debby explored the use of tablets to evoke meaningful engagement through mobile apps for reminiscing, music, images and games.

The program was a success and spread to other communities.  Debby's biggest challenge was training library staff and community volunteers how to coach caregivers and their loved ones on the iPads.  Being a coach not only required an understanding of working with a vulnerable population but also the technical knowledge of using an iPad.

I volunteered to help Debby train her coaches on the iPad. In turn, she mentored me - helping me understand the nature of memory loss and how to help people through the use of technology. After a few months of working together unofficially, we recently teamed up to build a comprehensive approach.

It's been a very enlightening and humbling experience.  The nature of Alzheimer's and related dementias is harrowing.  People with dementia are not only burdened by progressive cognitive decline but also the social stigma and family stress that ensue.

By leveraging free and low cost apps, we help people pack mental comfort for the journey of memory loss and enjoy personally relevant activities throughout the progression of the disease.

In March, Debby and I will be presenting on our approach - Tablet Engaged Active Minds - at the American Society on Aging Conference in Washington, DC.  While we are both eager to finally meet, it’s even more exciting to take another step forward in our shared mission to enrich the lives of older adults through technology.