Apple Season!

It’s Apple Season! 

A time for that idyllic apple orchard photoshoot, apple pie, applesauce, apple crumble, apple cider, and well, just sitting down with some good old eating apples. Memories flood my mind of times of heading over to Star Orchard with my grandma and my parents. Of running into my grandmother’s and being filled with excitement when I would see the “apple saucepan” on the stove. The first apple pie I made right after moving to New York, of heading out of the city with friends to get away, pick some apples, and enjoy spending time together. 

Oh, it is not that apple season that you are referencing? Okay. 

As some may be aware, September is Apple season in the tech world. It is a time when the latest operating system is released, typically the latest iPhone is announced, and other tech news comes from that company, Apple. It has me thinking about the various types of conversations we have regarding tech and dementia. It seems the developers have one idea, the care partners have theirs, and the individuals living with dementia have their own various needs, desires, and even relationships to technology. Those of us observing the dynamic can open up the invitation to using tech in powerful ways, but we must never force it on anyone. 

So what is the relationship between tech and dementia? In short, and sort of vague answer, the overlap is anything that has become useful and accepted. That is to say, if someone with dementia wanted to have the latest and greatest and enjoyed having it in their lives with all the apps and programs, then wonderful, but if someone didn’t want any of it in or near them, that is also great. Tech should never be another burden, source of confusion or stress, or replacement for care. Let me state that last one again, the technology of any kind should NEVER be a replacement for care or personal connection. It should also NEVER be seen as something that can one day extend our life in that sci-fi sort of way. Now, what can it be? It can be a beautiful tool. It can be a way to connect. It can be a source of independence. It can bring comfort and safety. It can be a tool used to take action. 

This last year and a half have shown us how lonely and isolating life can be, and for many living with dementia and their care partners, this is a full-time reality, pandemic or not. But, it doesn’t have to be. And while this is a topic all on its own, we should recognize the power technology can have to connect each other when in-person visits are not possible for any number of reasons. A computer, Apple TV, or iPad can become the tools we use to connect.

We never want to lose our independence. But sometimes life has a different plan, and we need to rely more and more on outside sources. The apps we use can guide us, be it a list of reminders, alarms, or various alerts, can help us keep our appointments, make sure we get a birthday card out to a loved one, and it can be a place to connect with others no longer in our community. 

Prayer apps can help us remain connected to our community of faith and not feel so alone if we are accustomed to praying in groups, the Relevant Radio app, Hallow and Catholify are some of my favorites, but I am sure that there are many other options for people of all faith traditions. 

Apple watches, Homepods, and devices like Alexa can help tell us the time, turn on lights, call our children, or even call for help (you must remember to enable this feature) from anywhere in our home. 

The Apple TV and other Smart TV or TV devices can connect us to the old movies we love, and maybe introduce us to something new without the need for a DVD player. 

As time goes on, the operating system you use and its related hardware is less about joining a club and more about personal preference as the tech companies, for the most part, are willing to cross-platform lines and talk to each other. And regardless of what it might look like, you don’t need to upgrade every year. It can appear that way, and that makes it a slightly daunting (and expensive) experience. You don’t need to upgrade every year. Not even every other year or every 3 years. 

It is apple season, and I am sitting here on my 8-year-old MacBook Pro with my 6-year-old iPhone, dreaming of apple pie, and grateful for all the ways these two devices have connected me over the years to others and information. It never replaced in-person connection and community but has been a tool to enhance it when in-person was not possible. I am also thinking about all the ways technology companies have failed us. Or maybe don’t understand the various needs of those on the dementia journey. 

Here are some things I wish Apple (and other computer and software companies would recognize.) They speak often about accessibility, and there is room for improvement.

  1. We don’t want our tech to be a care replacement, but a care assistant. 
  2. 2-factor authentication may be great for security, but it can be a problem when trying to assist a loved one remotely, and quite uncomfortable when a professional care partner is helping with the device. 
  3. Care Partners want to be able to have full remote access to their loved one’s tech, not just a desktop computer. There has to be some safe, secure, and creative answer to this problem. 
  4. Some people would like to have a version of iOS that could allow for a simplified experience. Maybe something with a swipe of a toggle that can then be locked, that would make sure unused native apps are removed, and a streamlined experience activated. Apple does a decent job with low vision but needs to expand this mindset. 
  5. When developing operating systems, accessibility programs, and new apps, have those living with dementia included in the beta market. This is one I hear almost monthly!

For those thinking about using tech in dementia care, here are some thoughts I have that have been successful in the past.

  1. Only include tech that your loved one wants to use. If they want a phone but not an Apple Watch, then don’t get them a smartwatch.
  2. While Apple products tend to be more user-friendly for those living with dementia, if someone wants a Microsoft product because that is what they used the last decades of their career, then purchase the tech that supports the platforms they already know. 
  3. Do a yearly or even monthly tech assessment. Think about what is being used, not used, what has caused problems, what has alleviated problems. Feel free to change apps or even the devices themselves that you use. 
  4. If you think it is going to be too much of a burden to introduce tech into care, then move on. No need to force it! 
  5. Timing is everything. What might have been successfully introduced last week, may not work this week. If you think something might work, introduce the tech at that moment, not later. The sooner you incorporate it into the care and social plan, the better. 
  6. Don’t feel hurt if it doesn’t work. You tried something new.
  7. You don’t need to upgrade every single year. It is also okay to hold off on updating the operating system for a little bit while you take the time to figure it out yourself on your devices. 
  8. Remember! Age is not an indicator that can allow us to assume someone’s ability to use technology or their attitude towards tech. For example, my grandmother, born in 1922, while she didn’t own a computer, she had an openness to it and was curious about the computer. She had a cell phone. We could have introduced the use of technology into her life if approached with intention. My other grandmother, born in 1933, at the time of her passing in February, was on her 4th computer, had an iPhone, and 2 iPads (a Mini and a large Pro.) She also had a scanner. In the last decade of her career, she used a computer at work. A person’s age is truly just a number when it comes to technology.

It’s apple season! So enjoy a slice of pie. Enjoy the last bit of warm weather with a glass of apple cider in your hand. And, think about ways technology may or may not be a useful element of your care and dementia journey.

Published by Kathryne Fassbender

Creative Gerontologist, Speaker, Catholic Innovator. I am also the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.

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