Dementia often has a significant impact on a person’s daily life, including how they function within their own home.
However, a wide range of products are available to help the person live more independently; minimise frustration caused by not being able to carry out certain tasks; reduce the risk of falls, accidents and injuries; and relieve families of some of their worries, leading to a better quality of life for everyone.
‘Assistive technology’ refers to equipment that is designed to help people with physical or cognitive disabilities carry out daily activities more easily. It doesn’t just refer to electronic equipment or machines, but to a range of living aids.
These are just a few examples of assistive technology for people with dementia. Some people will find them helpful while others will not, so consider what the person is finding difficult first and then look at possible aids or adaptations.
- voice alerts/voice recognising technology such as smartphone apps and smart devices like Alexa, which can be used to set reminders, turn lights on and off, play music etc
- universal remote controls with fewer buttons
- telephones with large buttons and speed dial functions for the person’s most important contacts
- ‘rise and recline’ chairs to help the person sit and stand more easily
- a camera doorbell to show the person who is at the door
- dementia clocks that clearly display and/or speak the day, date, time, and time of day (eg morning/afternoon/evening)
- simplified technology devices designed for accessibility, eg one-button tablets
- screen readers that read out text on computers, smartphones and tablets – these are often built into the device and are helpful for people who have difficulty reading due to problems with vision or comprehension, and those who find it hard to navigate technology
- smoke alarms and heat detectors. Smoke alarms should be fitted in areas such as the lounge, bedrooms, hallway and landing. A heat detector should be fitted in the kitchen – these are triggered by heat from fires but not cooking fumes. Make sure you test them at least monthly
- mobility aids like stairlifts and grab rails
In the kitchen
- pill organisers that show the day and time that each medication should be taken – some can be programmed to open automatically
- kitchen equipment such as jar opening tools; kettle tippers to make pouring easier; adapted cutlery for people who have difficulty feeding themselves; non-slip chopping boards and place mats; non-spill cups
- gas safety valves for gas ovens and hobs – these devices ensure the gas isn’t left on or switched on accidentally
- ‘perching stools’ that the person can sit on when cooking, washing up, ironing etc
In the bedroom
- slide sheets to make it easier to turn over in bed
- adjustable beds, similar to hospital beds, to help people with mobility problems get in and out of bed
- products to help with personal care and dressing, for example zip pulls; tools to help with putting on socks, tights and shoes; adaptive clothing to make dressing, undressing and using the toilet easier, eg clothing with Velcro rather than buttons
- portable lights and nightlights to help the person see if they move around at night – battery operated motion sensor lights are inexpensive and can be attached to walls or ceilings with Velcro or sticky pads
In the bathroom
- toileting aids like commodes, raised toilet seats and portable urinals for night-time use
- ‘smart toilets’ that incorporate a washer and dryer to help with personal hygiene when using the toilet
- overflow plugs – these automatically drain water from the sink or bath when it reaches a certain level, preventing flooding. Many also change colour to indicate when the water is too hot
- bath and shower aids like shower seats, bath lifts and grab rails
Outside the home
- ‘turntable’ car seat cushions to assist with getting in and out of the car
- movement-activated lighting
- smartphone apps like Flush (Apple and Android) and Toilet Finder to locate the nearest public toilets
- Radar keys that give access to locked public disabled toilets (the National Key Scheme)
- GPS trackers to allow you to locate the person with dementia if they get lost or go missing outside the home – there are many discreet products available, such as watches, key fobs and shoe insoles
- key safes which have a code that can be given to trusted people so they can enter the person’s home when necessary
Telecare systems monitor activity around the home and alert you if they detect anything out of the ordinary. This can help the person with dementia live independently for longer.
When the telecare system detects anything unusual, it alerts a call centre operator who will arrange the appropriate help – this may be simply checking in on the person through a speaker in their home, or they may call a nominated relative or the emergency services.
Some telecare systems send updates direct to families or carers using a smartphone app.
Telecare may include:
- personal alarms – these are typically worn on a cord around the neck and alert a call centre if the person falls. Some require the person to press a button; others activate automatically if they detect a fall
- bed movement sensors – these will alert you if the person gets out of bed and are useful if they get up to walk around or try to leave the home at night. Some also alert you if the person doesn’t get up in the morning
- door alarms – these sound an alarm if the person opens the door, so you know if they are about to leave the home. Some will alert you if the front door is left open
- chair sensor mats that alert you when the person stands or attempts to stand
- sensors that detect flooding, gas or smoke
There are several types of assessment that can identify ways to make independent living easier for a person with dementia. These are:
The needs assessment
This looks at how the person is managing everyday tasks like washing, dressing and cooking. The main purpose is to identify if they need support with their care needs, for example from a professional carer, at a day centre, or in a care home. It may also identify home equipment and adaptations that could help. This is carried out by social services, and you can apply at gov.uk.
The home assessment
This looks specifically at home adaptations such as ramps, grab rails, stairlifts and walk-in showers. The assessor may also recommend daily living aids and assistive technology.
An occupational therapy (OT) assessment
This is carried out by an occupational therapist and is intended to support people with daily living activities, for example suggesting new ways to approach household tasks and recommending equipment to help with these. You can ask the person’s GP for a referral or ask the memory service if they can be referred.
Not all living aids and home adaptations need to be expensive – often, a simple solution like using a whiteboard for reminders works just as well as a purchased assistive product.
Some changes can be more costly – but there may be financial support to help with these.
Small adaptations to the home that cost less than £1,000 each should be paid for by the local council. These might include grab rails, accessible ramps and movement-activated outdoor lighting.
Larger adaptations, such as converting a bathroom to a wet room, will not be funded by your local council, but you may be able to get a grant to contribute to or cover the cost. These include the Disabled Facilities Grant and grants from organisations and charities like Independence at Home and, in some areas, local branches of Age UK. The Home Independence Agency can also help you find grants that may be available in your area.
Some mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and toilet aids, may be available to hire from the British Red Cross, and some local councils and memory services loan smaller items like calendar clocks.
If someone is registered as disabled or has a long-term health condition, they may be exempt from paying VAT on assistive technology. This could save up to 20%, so ask the supplier if this is an option.
To speak to a dementia specialist Admiral Nurse about a stay in hospital or any other aspect of dementia, please call our free Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December), email email@example.com or you can pre-book a phone or video call with an Admiral Nurse.
Dementia UK resources
- Making the home safe and comfortable for a person with dementia
- Dementia and sleep
- Financial and legal sources of support
- Home Improvement Agency
- NHS: household gadgets and equipment to make life easier
- NHS: getting a needs assessment
- NHS: personal alarms, monitoring systems (telecare) and key safes
- Gov.uk: apply for equipment for your home if you’re disabled
- Disabled Facilities Grant
- Living made easy from the Disabled Living Foundation
Advice on independent living
- Adaptawear: accessible clothing for people with care needs
- Complete Care Shop
- Age UK
- Red Cross
- Royal British Legion
Independent living support for Armed Forces personnel and veterans
- Telecare Systems Association