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Learning about Internet accessibility for People with Dementia

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Topics: 
communication, dementia awareness, technology

This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to undergo a short placement at the Centre for Dementia at the Institute of Mental Health at The University of Nottingham. During this placement, I was tasked with a small research project to develop an information sheet for a seminar on the ‘Aspects of Online Life for People with Dementia’. This aimed to assess how people with dementia are aided online, as well as looking for solutions to the problems that their condition might create, e.g. increased susceptibility to fraud.

In a modern society, many aspects of everyday life such as shopping and banking are accessed through the internet, however it can be argued that the design of some websites in activities such as booking a train ticket, might not suit the needs of some people with dementia. During the course of my research it quickly became clear that this topic is consistently approached from the perspective of improving interface design or by using assistive technology as opposed to improving accessibility for people with dementia. Various articles suggest that elderly people use technology and are consistently becoming more active on the internet, however, I personally believe there is still a general stigma associating elderly people/people with dementia with technological incompetence. If this is true, this might suggest that companies are less likely to consider their needs when developing new products or constructing websites.

I was not surprised by the lack of literature on dementia-friendly online life as this idea is not publicly discussed; most of online life has only really become prominent in the last few decades.  Perhaps many can identify with me because truthfully the idea of online life that is catered specifically to the needs of people with dementia and/or elderly people had never occurred to me to be a social issue.

Growing up in a generation in which major improvements in technology and online accessibility occur daily and are integrated into society, I feel it is easy to – incorrectly – associate technology with youthfulness. Consequently, this topic might seem like a foreign concept. Unfortunately, this does not then allow opportunities for people with dementia to be involved in this common aspect of society, and hence, this may promote feelings of isolation.

As such, I write this for those who rely upon family and carers for their health and for people with dementia who fear for their safety, to remind people that dementia is a condition associated with cognitive deterioration. Therefore, improving online life would not only increase accessibility to various facilities, but might also promote a better quality of life by decreasing feelings of social isolation for people with dementia who are unable to physically visit friends and relatives. This would be a great step in promoting independence and, as a result, both people with dementia and carers alike might then benefit from this.

I urge you to look beyond the literature; the lack of relevant research might suggest that this concept seems less important compared to improvements in healthcare. However, one thing is clear: we need to integrate elderly people/people with dementia into this ever-evolving world of technology. It is my hope that as dementia research progresses, technological ignorance and isolation in this regard will become a thing of the past.

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