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Using technology as therapy in the battle against dementia

Written By | Sep 17, 2018
As the population ages at a mind spinning rate, with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day, the sense of urgency to find treatments to manage this tidal wave of neurodegenerative diseases grows more acute. Photo: TaniaVDB/Pixabay ReminX

As the population ages at a mind spinning rate, with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day, the sense of urgency to find treatments to manage this tidal wave of neurodegenerative diseases grows more acute. Photo: TaniaVDB/Pixabay

SAN DIEGO, Calif., Sept. 27, 2018 – More than 5.7 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Still more suffer from mental deterioration due to social isolation. As the population ages at a mind spinning rate, with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day, the sense of urgency to find treatments to manage this tidal wave of neurodegenerative diseases grows more acute.

A San Diego-based digital therapeutics company, Dthera Sciences, is working to develop quality of life therapies for the elderly and those suffering from cognitive decline. Its newest product, ReminX™, uses a digital delivery tool designed for the older user in a simplified tablet form to provide Reminiscence Therapy, a common behavioral therapy used for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as those living in social isolation away from daily contact with family and friends.

 

A clinical pilot study conducted using ReminX at the University of California, San Diego shows promise. Photo: Courtesy Dthera Sciences

ReminX uses a proprietary tablet designed specifically for the senior who struggles to use a tablet, smartphone, or laptop. An artificial intelligence (AI) “chatbot” delivers prompts and directions to family members and caregivers via text or mobile app to upload content in the form of photos, narrative storytelling, or video. The device renders the content into “stories” delivered to the senior using the device.




 

When the senior user accesses the stories, emotional recognition software activates a forward facing camera and measures the user’s reaction in the form of smiles and other emotional responses to provide feedback to the family about what type of information benefits their family member the most.

Clinical pilot study shows promise

Will it work the way it’s intended? A clinical pilot study conducted at the University of California, San Diego shows promise. In results presented in July at the 40th annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, ReminX was shown to significantly reduce anxiety, depression, and overall emotional distress in dementia patients.

“There is currently a great void in treating mood symptoms often seen in patients with dementia,” said Dr. Vincent Filoteo, Section Chief of Neuropsychology and Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego, and lead investigator in the study. “Reminiscence Therapy is a well-validated treatment for these symptoms in both dementia and social isolation. A tool that can digitally deliver Reminiscence Therapy in a consistent and highly accessible manner has the potential to have an even greater impact on mood symptoms, and would most likely also improve cognition and quality of life.”

However, no product for seniors can deliver results if it can’t produce a workaround for seniors born long before the age of digital technology. If you’ve ever experienced the challenge of trying to teach an older relative how to use a touch screen or smart phone and failed, the frustration on both ends feels insurmountable.

“What we found is that if someone can’t use an iPad, they cannot use a touchscreen device. That’s not the solution,” said Edward Cox, CEO of Dthera Sciences. Instead, Dthera’s developers created a tablet using a system most seniors understand – the traditional television.

“This (ReminX) is a portable television, because this generation understands a television … It’s not that someone has to have cognitive impairment not to understand a tablet. This is a big leap.”

A tablet designed with the senior user in mind

Cox said there are also significant differences in operation from a typical tablet or smartphone with the senior user in mind. “No cords, it has to be charged wirelessly. They also have to be loud. People love the software, but the hardware didn’t work. We took the normal speaker on a tablet, and made it 16 times more powerful. We also put it into a tough rubber cover,” said Cox.

Next came the challenge of getting family members to use the device. Once again, generational communication silos came into play. “There’s the generation that makes calls and sends emails,” said Cox. “There’s the generation that uses Facebook. There’s the generation that uses Snapchat and Instagram. But they only communicate through their silos – with the exception of text messages.”

So ReminX doesn’t have a website. It communicates via text message or mobile app via the AI interface directly to users uploading content, which Dthera named “Rachel.” The senior simply turns on the device similar to the TV set they know and understand.



“We are solving a big problem in a very streamlined way, “ said Cox. “You are crowdsourcing love in a seamless way, asking people to do what they already do.”

As of the launch, ReminX uses a monthly subscription model for the operating service driven by the chatbot, at a price of $33 per month. For more information, please visit www.dthera.com and www.reminx.com.

Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.