Online assistance could aid future care of those with Alzheimer's

Mary McAnulty, right, holds hands with her father-in-law, Russ Schutte, left, as she says grace over a recent breakfast meal. McAnulty is the primary caregiver for her father-in-law who suffers from Alzheiner's disease. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: May. 11, 2013 5:12 pm Updated: May. 25, 2013 7:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Local caregivers for those with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia may some day receive assistance from applications on their smartphones.

Apps now on the market -- and more in development -- help caregivers better monitor such things as medication and also track a wandering Alzheimer's patient.

"They say there's an app for everything," Jamie Foster, a chapter assistant for the Quincy Area Branch of the Central Illinois Alzheimer's Association, said.

That's the good news.

The bad news is none are yet available locally or regionally, but it should not be long.

Foster said she anticipates such high-tech assistance playing a major role in the coming years when it comes to caregiver assistance.

Among the first of the Alzheimer's-related apps to show up in other areas of the country have been:

º A "pillbox" app that, among other things, keeps track of dosages and the time of day each should be taken, then adds a check mark when they have been administered. This has proven effective for primary caregivers and others who share in the process or are interested. The pillbox program is just one feature of a $3.99 app called "Balance" that was launched earlier this year by the National Alzheimer Center.

º A new "Comfort Zone" program that costs $43 a month can assist in keeping track of loved ones, primarily those who may be prone to wandering. Users can go online and see exactly where a loved one is and where he had been through the use of GPS devices.

"Things like this will be of great use as so many of the (baby boomer) generation continue to age," Angela Green of the Peoria office of the Central Illinois Alzheimer's Associaiton told The Herald-Whig.

Seventy-seven million baby boomers, the largest U.S. generation ever, are expected to put Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia on the same level as an epidemic in the coming decades.

Mary McAnulty of Quincy helps care for her father-in-law, Russell Schutte, 84, who has Alzheimer's, and is anxious for the new technology to become available. McAnulty, 48, says she relies heavily on her smartphone for daily use, and incorporating an Alzheimer's app would be no problem.

McAnulty said she became a full-time caregiver about a year ago. She lives about five minutes from her father-in-law and mother-in-law, Elizabeth, and she is at their home "two or three times a day."

"I just try and make sure he is comfortable, make sure he gets his medications, keeps doctor appointments, that he is eating ... I just try and take care of him," McAnulty said.

Like many caregivers, McAnulty said such tasks can be more mentally draining than physical.

"There are times now that he does not remember who I am," she said.

McAnulty was especially intrigued with the GPS concept that is designed to help monitor those with Alzheimer's who tend to wander.

"(My father-in-law) has walked off a couple of times," she said.

While McAnulty and those like her embrace and are involved with modern technology, others are not on the same page. That prompted a warning from Beth Kallmyer, a vice president at the Alzheimer's Association, who says it is extremely premature to depend entirely on online tools.

"It's not a good fit for everybody," Kallmyer told the Associated Press. "When you're looking at people impacted by Alzheimer's disease, including some caregivers, you're looking at an older population that might not be comfortable (with the technology). We always have to remember technology is great -- when it works."

For information about local services and programs connected with Alzheimer's disease, plus caregiver support, call (217) 228-1111 or visit the Quincy Area Branch of the Alzheimer's Association on the second floor of the Quincy Senior and Family Resource Center, 639 York.