Book review: Using technology in dementia care

09 December 2019

Dr Jon Hilton is an Acute Internal Medicine registrar. In this blog reviews the book Using technology in dementia care. He tweets @JonJHilton

Being both a doctor and a massive geek, healthcare technology is an interest of mine. I’ve attended and organised healthcare-related hack days with the focus on making healthcare IT less bad.

When I saw that BGS were asking for a reviewer for this book, I jumped at the chance, as the use of technology in healthcare is something I am very interested in. Having grown up as a digital native, I have been using digital devices since primary school and I was cutting my teeth in the early days of dial-up internet as a teenager. The use of technology in healthcare is expanding and it serves patients and healthcare professionals if we all understand it better.

Each chapter has been written by a different set of authors and the overall book was edited by Austell, Smith and Joddrell. The chapters are short and easy to read with helpfully signposted “take-home topics” formatted as bullet points. This book was not written with me in mind, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you who it was written for. Some chapters feel written for healthcare professionals, these are the ones which contain multiple references to academic work. Whereas others feel like they are written for individuals either with dementia or caring for someone who does and I could see these being printed in a specialist supplement of a newspaper. The stilted prose and fixed-format uncomfortably jar with the conversational style which some of the writers take.

The testimonials from people living with dementia and their families are insightful. They provide a real-world perspective on the technologies in use today - and for me highlighted equipment which I consider to be so basic that I don’t even class it as technology. I’ve never used, let alone held, a whistling kettle so the concept of a kettle not turning off once boiled is alien to me. The chapter on ethical considerations of technology raises some excellent points which the wider community has not yet come to a consensus on. Is a home surveillance system aimed at alerting help in the event of a fall also an invasion of privacy? Does a pressure-sensing falls alarm curtail autonomy? I don’t know and I’ve yet to determine how I feel about these issues but I can see that these questions will need answers over the coming decade.

Many writers mention the positive aspects of technology and the benefits of inclusivity provided by telecommunications and online companionship. I was constantly waiting for one of the writers to mention the downsides of online interactions and communities, however, none of them did. As I mentioned above, I was a teenager during the early 2000s when the now-defunct MySpace and MSN Messenger were the hot new things. At times these environments had the potential to be horrifically toxic for personal wellbeing - we are seeing the same today on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit.

I would struggle to recommend this book to any of my colleagues, either in medicine or in IT software development. A book on a topic like this will always feel dated, such as the nature of words printed on dead trees. For healthcare professionals, the book does little to inspire new ways of using technology - many people like using tablet computers and unsurprisingly people with dementia like using them too. For technology developers, I would suggest they focus on the patient and caregiver testimonials and the ethical considerations behind the technology they are developing.


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