Tuesday, July 16, 2024

New Personal Aide Reminds People to Take Medications or Go to Appointments

A new app that acts as a personal aide for older adults with mild cognitive impairment, scheduling and reminding them and their caregivers about medications and daily activities, is coming to market with support from AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network.

MAXminder™ has been designed for and tested by the people who will ultimately use it, and is now available in “beta mode” for anyone who wants to check it out.

“This product will enable people with mild cognitive impairment to gain greater control over their lives,” says project lead Dr. Jeff Jutai, an AGE-WELL researcher and professor of health sciences at the University of Ottawa, noting the development of MAX has involved older adults and those who care for them “from the get-go.”

He says the project began six years ago as a way for people who “want independence and quality of life as they age, but face challenges with their memory, dexterity, mobility and eyesight” to safely manage medications and keep track of appointments such as doctor’s appointments and meetings.

MAX is personalized, requires little or no typing and is simpler to use than other calendar products on the market, says Dr. Jutai. For example, its medication reminders include photo-realistic images of actual pills, showing their shapes and colours, to ensure people are alerted to take the right medication in the correct dose at the right time.

The technology also helps alleviate the stresses of people caring for older adults living with cognition and memory issues, he says, by providing timely information about how their loved one is doing, and involving them in scheduling and monitoring activities directly through the app.

Funded through AGE-WELL’s Strategic Investment Program, Dr. Jutai says the project also represents “an especially strong and productive collaboration” with industry partner JLG Health Solutions of Ottawa.

The company’s CEO Dinis Cabral calls MAX “a game-changer.” He points out that with the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults “are more isolated and require more support, but restrictions make providing that support harder and we need this technology to help us.” Post pandemic, the app will continue to support older people to age in place, he says, while easing pressures on caregivers, including those who live far from their loved one.

The product has been tested through Open Collaboration for Cognitive Accessibility, a company that uses an inclusive approach where people with dementia and cognitive disabilities provide feedback on whether products and services are usable and practical.

For example, Paul Lea, 69, of Toronto, who lives with vascular dementia, offered input on MAX that included suggesting a way for users to edit their entries.

Lea loves the app, especially its pop-up reminders of the seven medications he needs to take through the day. The app’s simple menus are easier to navigate than a typical Google or Outlook calendar, says Lea. He plans to get MAX for his daughter, who lives an hour away, so she can also keep track of his medications and activities.

Myranda McNeil, a social support worker who cares for people with cognitive disabilities at Breton Ability Centre in Sydney River, Nova Scotia, tested the app and found its reminders useful, noting that residents of the facility take up to 13 medications a day. “If those are mixed up, it can cause problems,” she says.

Dr. Jutai says having people like Lea and McNeil involved “at every step of the process” has been critical to ensure future commercial success for MAX.

“There’s a whole raft of products out there that don’t get used or used properly” because users were not considered or involved in their development, he says.

Industry partner Dinis Cabral says that the feedback has made the app more user-friendly, for example with larger icons and a more intuitive way of inputting information. MAX in the future could also adjust to users, he says, for instance allowing more time for responses as someone becomes more cognitively impaired.

MAXminder™ will be available in a few months’ time at a monthly or yearly cost through app stores, Cabral says. The app is provided through a secure cloud-hosted system, so information is not sitting on an actual device. It’s on both Apple and android platforms, and works on smartphones and tablets.

The app currently works in English and French, and an older adult and a caregiver can even use versions with different languages at the same time. Other languages should be easily added going forward, Cabral says, and there are plans to release the product in other countries.

Text courtesy of AGE-WELL and writer Mary Gooderham.

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