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Phone Reminder Apps Can Be a Useful Tool for Those With Early Alzheimer’s

January 10, 2022

Smartphone apps that provide useful reminders can be a helpful tool for people in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reports. The study found that many older adults with mild dementia were able to use the apps, and most said the apps improved their daily lives.

Such apps could help people with mild Alzheimer’s disease to remember to take their daily medicines, for example; to show up for doctor appointments or social gatherings; or to make important calls to family members and friends. Such memory aides could be especially helpful for older people with Alzheimer’s who live at home and their caregivers.

“There is this pervasive notion that older adults dislike technology, said Michael K. Scullin of Baylor University, the lead author of the study, which looked at older adults with early dementia and other impairments in memory and thinking skills. “But we found that study participants enjoyed learning to use smartphone memory apps and were able to improve their daily prospective memory performance.” Prospective memory is the kind of memory that involves remembering to perform an intended task in the future, such as taking your medicine, brushing your teeth in the morning or remembering to call someone.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved 52 men and women with mild dementia or mild cognitive impairment, a memory-impairing brain disorder that may be a precursor to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. They ranged in age from 55 to 92.

Over the next four weeks, study participants were trained to use either an automated reminder app, which pops up automatic reminders, or a digital voice recorder app on their smartphones, like the voice memo app on the iPhone. They were given step-by-step lessons on basic phone functionality, like how to turn the phone on, as well as how to launch the apps and to add voice “reminders.”

Twice a week, they were asked to remember to call one of the researchers involved in the experiment. They were also asked to take photos whenever they were at specific locales. The researchers also worked with participants and their caregivers to identify 7 to 10 daily activities that required regular “reminders.”

The researchers found that after the training, those who used the apps were successful in completing the memory tasks about 50 percent of the time. That compared to about 20 percent in earlier experiments that involved completing similar memory tasks but without the aid of apps.

In addition, more than 75 percent of the participants reported improvements in their ability to remember daily tasks, and they also gave higher ratings to their quality of life.

The researchers said that with training and patience, those with early Alzheimer’s can be taught to use smartphone reminder apps to help with daily memory lapses. Such apps may help not only with daily tasks, but they can also be a way for those with Alzheimer’s disease to stay socially connected with friends and family. Social stimulation, especially in person, has been shown in other studies to help to curb declines in cognitive function.

Dr. Scullin encouraged caregivers to take the time to teach those with early Alzheimer’s to use their phones and tablets to improve their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. He noted that by the fourth week of the study, many of the participants benefitted from refresher training in how to effectively use the technology.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Michael K. Scullin PhD; Winston E. Jones, PhD; Richard Phenis PsyD; et al: “Using smartphone technology to improve prospective memory functioning: A randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, November 17, 2021. Baylor College of Medicine.

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