Management of Aging Services grad awarded $500K grant to support project begun at UMass Boston
A modest decline of memory loss is fairly common in aging. But, Debby Dodds MAS ’14 says she could “see the disenfranchisement of early-stage memory loss” in her mother and her friends.
Relocating her mother to an assisted living community near her own family in California, Dodds was dismayed to find that the facility did not have access to wi-fi for its residents. Dodds — who works in technology — found this unfathomable.
“There was this whole population we weren’t connecting with,” she says.
Wanting to use her knowledge of technology to support older adults who, like her mother, were dealing with memory loss, Dodds decided to go back to school to understand the psycho-social aspects of the aging population. She enrolled in UMass Boston’s Management of Aging Services program — offered only online — to study gerontology and explore the field’s current research while pursuing her interest to use technology to support this population.
Among her first projects was using software downloaded to a tablet to record her voice over photos to create a story and share family memories with her mother. Soon her sibling and the grandkids were doing the same. The bonus was caregivers could play the stories for her mom to stimulate fond memories when family wasn’t there. The story engagements produced warm and happy feelings for her mother, personalized engagements with her caregivers and created enjoyable interactions for Dodds and her family members.
“Reminiscing helps us all stay connected to our past successes which can keep us happy,” says Dodds. “With memory loss, it becomes more difficult to recall our life’s joyful events. That is where technology comes in. With personalized and content-driven tablet engagement, people with dementia can stay in tune with the best parts of their personhood.”
Dodds expanded this concept for her capstone project. She created a workshop, TouchTEAM (Tablet Engaged Active Minds), which used digital technology to engage individuals with memory loss and allow their caregivers to connect with them. She launched the free program through the Santa Cruz Public library. The library provided iPads which she loaded with music, games, photographs, puzzles, and videos and volunteers worked with individuals with dementia and their families to offer new ways for them to connect. The workshops were met with considerable success.
“The experience I received through the gerontology program was powerful,” says Dodds. “I really cherished my time there. The professors were knowledgeable, patient and guiding. I think one of the most valuable things was being in class with people from all over the U.S. Each state manages its aging population differently. I hadn’t anticipated how valuable that aspect would be. I’ve kept in contact with many of my colleagues and value their perspectives about our work.”
Dodds says she was offered every opportunity to tailor assignments to her interest in using technology to work with people with dementia. Today, she’s a partner in Generation Connect and helping formal caregivers across the U.S. use mobile devices with personalized content to enhance the quality of life for their clients.
Currently Dodds and her colleagues are pilot testing an app based on her capstone project. Awarded a grant of nearly $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, and Small Business Innovation Research program, the team is piloting the Care Team Connect (CTC) app with a variety of Visiting Angels and Right at Home, home-care agency franchises across the country.
During the pilot, managed tablets with the CTC app are customized to help home care providers collaborate with families and personalize engagement with their clients. Together they develop music playlists to enhance mood, and build a collection of personalized family photos and videos to help caregivers connect more meaningfully with clients, much like family would if they were present.
“The tailored tablet allows us to build trust between the caregiver and the client that is driven by the content family provides,” says Dodds. “There’s such a wide variety of personalized information available. Things such as favorite songs, family photos, or culturally specific events that allow us to tap into who that person is. We had a client who was Navajo, he was moved to be nearer his eldest daughter and lost touch with his culture. We provided his caregivers with a tablet that had videos of Pow Wows and news in his native language. He was thrilled to reconnect with his personhood in this way.”
Dodds says this type of technology can help reduce turnover related to the care of clients with dementia, improve the ability to age in place, and provide support for non-clinical home care services as reimbursable through supplemental benefits.
She knows firsthand how valuable this tool is for the caregiver and the patient.
“My mom lived with memory loss for ten years,” she says. “The last year of her life she lived with my family and we became user number one of the CTC app. I think most people don’t consider having their parents with dementia live with them during the last year of their life, but at that very sensitive time in our lives, it went really well. Investing in the MAS degree helped shaped my life personally and professionally, and I am grateful.”