WHEN television presenter and gamer Stephanie ‘Hex’ Bendixsen was caring for her mother, who died from dementia this year, she said she sometimes struggled at times to find things to talk about or do together.
Now the author and Dementia Australia ambassador is getting behind a new free app called A Better Visit, aimed at helping families and friends connect and communicate when visiting a loved one with dementia.
"I cared for my mother Wendy, who died earlier this year from dementia and I wish an app like this had been available then because it can be challenging to come up with different things to do and talk about, especially as symptoms progress," Ms Bendixsen said.
"Playing noughts and crosses with some classic songs key to your moves or using the window washing game to reveal images of iconic Australian locations can’t help but prompt further conversations or enjoyment of play as a shared experience.
"The games, the sounds and the easy functionality enables people living with dementia to play with you. Anything that helps you bring on a smile is welcome in my book."
Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe said family members often say they don’t know how to communicate and interact with a loved one who has dementia, especially as their dementia advances.
"And it may follow that other family members, children and friends start to withdraw and perhaps become less likely to include the person with dementia in everyday activities or schedule in regular visits," Ms McCabe said.
"Over time this social isolation can have a profound impact on the person with dementia and the primary carers.”
A recent Inclusion and Isolation report by Dementia Australia found around two thirds of people didn’t know what to say to someone with dementia.
"By playing the games in the app, carers and other family members will be inspired to engage with the person with dementia through the interaction, images and sounds enhancing their enjoyment and discussions,” said Ms McCabe.
The Dementia Australia app was sponsored by Lifeview Residential Care and was developed by Swinburne University, with close consultation with people living with dementia and their carers at Lifeview homes across Victoria.
The games, the sounds and the easy functionality enables people living with dementia to play with you. Anything that helps you bring on a smile is welcome in my book.
Lifeview chief executive Madeline Gall said by observing and listening to residents living with dementia researchers were able to tailor certain elements such as adjustable speeds, include classic songs to prompt toe-tapping and singalongs, and design clear buttons and uncomplicated instructions.
"We are really pleased our residents living with dementia were able to make a contribution to the design of the app which will bring such joy to families for many years to come.
"Our staff observe families visiting and sitting next to their loved one struggling to maintain conversation. Through the stimulation and interaction A Better Visit prompts we would hear more laughter and chatting.
"What’s more we observed after the game play, the mood of the resident living with dementia would be more upbeat and often that positive mood would continue on, even after the families had gone home."
Ms Bendixsen has volunteered to join Dementia Australia’s Ambassador Program to share her experience of caring for her mother to raise awareness about dementia and to help others to know they are not alone.
A Better Visit is available for iPad only and can be downloaded for free at the App store.
The app is the latest addition to a range of digital projects developed by Dementia Australia to support people living with dementia and their carers and families.
National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500