22 August 2013

New memory aid system reduces dementia anxiety

A NEW ‘home help’ website displaying special photos and giving dementia patients timely reminders and reassuring them of key care home visits is being trialled in a nursing home in Sheffield.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has become the first NHS organisation in the country to start using an innovative memory aid system called myhomehelper (www.myhomehelper.co.uk) in one of its community areas. The system was inspired by former computer programmer Kevin Marsch’s own personal experience of dementia.

Kevin, 39, of Hull, has been caring for his mum, Patricia, for the last two years after she was diagnosed with vascular dementia, the second commonest form of the illness which occurs when the oxygen supply fails and brain cells die. During the early stages of her illness he started receiving 10 to 20 anxious calls a day at work simply because she was unable to remember what time he was due back home or when he was popping round for a visit. As a result, Kevin started putting simple messages on her computer when he was on a holiday. This made her a lot less anxious and the technology developed from there.

Now a new online system based on Kevin’s experiences is being tested by Royal Hallamshire staff caring for dementia patients at the Pexton Grange care home. The facility allows staff to post practical messages and reminders to residents about scheduled events taking place at the care home. These can be easily viewed on a computer monitor displayed in the home’s lounge area, and include what time lunch is due to be served and when the hairdresser and podiatrist will be visiting all patients. They can also display special photos of places and events to stir memories and recollections.

Kevin Marsch, 39, of Hull, said: “A few years ago my mum got really anxious when I went away, so I started posting messages on the computer to ease her anxiety. She’s been using the system for nearly three years now, and although her condition is getting worse she says it’s like a comfort blanket to her, which is great because it proves she still has a strong recognition of it despite the challenges of her illness.”

Jayne Stocks, a specialist nurse at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The number of over 65s suffering with dementia in Sheffield is predicted to rise by 35 per cent by 2025, so it’s vital that we support patients who wish to remain in their own home for as long as possible. Although technology will never replace face to face care, in conjunction with formal and informal care it can help meet individual and families care needs.

“Kevin developed this system for use with individuals in their own home, and we‘ve been trialling the system in the community to see how it works. Since the care home has started using the technology, fewer relatives have been asking what time daily events are scheduled to happen as this information is available on the system. It’s also reduced the number of questions about key visits, such as when the chiropodist is coming, freeing up time for staff to spend more time assisting patients.”

The Pexton Grange care home has a number of NHS intermediate care beds and therapy staff from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust work alongside care home staff to promote rehabilitation once patients are discharged from the acute ward.

The easy-to-use software includes a number of simple options to control information posted on the site and a coloured grid where staff can set precise times for reminders. Each minute can be allocated with a photo, random reminder, newsfeed and this hour is repeated for every hour until a specific timed reminder or video call overrides this.

The myhomehelper system recently won the ‘People’s Choice’ award at the Technology4Good Awards. These awards celebrate the work of people of all ages who use the power of computers and the internet to make the world a better place.


Claudia Blake, Research and Innovation Communications Officer
Tel: 0114 226 5033
Email: claudia.blake@sth.nhs.uk

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