New mobile app helps families, individuals cope with dementia

Dementia Guide Expert for Families appWant to learn everything there is to know about dementia? There’s an app for that.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing have developed a free mobile app for individuals suffering from dementia, their families and caregivers, as a way to improve the quality-of-life, well-being and knowledge of the disease that affects nearly 48 million people worldwide.

The “Dementia Guide Expert for Families” app, available through Apple iTunes and Android Google Play, was developed by Valerie Gruss, clinical associate professor of biobehavioral health science; Memoona Hasnain, professor and associate head of faculty development and research in the UIC College of Medicine; and Mike Koronkowski, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, to use information technology that provides evidence-based information that is convenient and affordable.

“Most Americans live without dementia, but they often feel uninformed and fearful of the disease,” Gruss said. The app not only provides a wealth of knowledge about dementia, but it allows older adults, individuals with dementia, families and caregivers to find appropriate providers and community support and resources.

Dementia is the progressive loss of functions such as thinking, memory, and reasoning severe enough to interfere with daily life and resulting in changing behaviors. While there is no known cure, early diagnosis allows interventions that are essential to providing the best medical care and improving outcomes.

There are hundreds of applications available to help those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Gruss said. What was lacking was an evidence-based app created by geriatric experts.

Unlike current apps that mostly relate to those already diagnosed with the disease, the new app provides expert information on what dementia is, the various types, contributing factors, risks, symptoms, stages, diagnosis, tests, treatment, management, communication techniques and links to practical resources and support services.

There is a need for dementia education for all older adults and families, Gruss said. Three-fourths of adults report not being knowledgeable about Alzheimer’s disease, and 44 percent of Americans fear it more than any other disease, including cancer. One in eight adults age 60 and older report experiencing confusion or memory loss that is happening more often and is getting worse over the past year, she said.

“But only 19.3 percent of those individuals reported discussing these changes with a healthcare provider,” Gruss said.

In 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the prevalence may triple. Alzheimer’s is the number-six cause of death, and number five among individuals between ages 65 and 85.

“We felt the best way to reach the largest audience possible to improve the public’s ability to understand the disease was to develop this app,” Gruss said. “This allows people to recognize early warning signs, enhance their ability to manage or self-manage the symptoms of dementia, and adopt behaviors to improve their health.”

The app has already been downloaded in five countries. Currently available only in English, it will soon be translated into other languages.

Gruss, Hasnain and Koronkowski collaborated on the project with technology experts at the U of I’s Urbana-Champaign campus, led by Jim Caputo, AITS project manager of mobile development services. It was part of a Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, funded through a $2.5 million Health Resources and Services Administration grant.