‘People with dementia <em>can</em> be useful’

By Bea Kraayenhof

Bea Kraayenhof

I recently had the pleasure of participating as a judge at Toronto’s DementiaHack. I felt so honoured to be there. It was big! Facebook sponsored it and there were some really, really good ideas.

DementiaHack was an event where tech and medical professionals came together over one weekend to create applications to help people with dementia, their caregivers or researchers. As a retired nurse, I have a lot of experience working with people living with the disease. But I was also there in another capacity: I have frontal lobe dementia, the likely result of a head injury when I was hit by a car when I was nine years old.

I was diagnosed at 48, and am now 62. I have had many years to think about what kinds of technological applications are useful, and which aren’t. At DementiaHack, what really excited me was a wrist watch that can be programmed by caregivers with a map and verbal instructions.

Your partner could send you to the store and the watch would say "walk on this street here, three trees later, turn right and cross the parking lot." It's totally visual and instructional, and it also tracks the person in case they get lost. It's brilliant.

I was especially happy with how the DementiaHack competitors reacted when I had to admit that I couldn't remember them from a previous dementia hackathon. They didn't bat an eye – they just wanted my opinion on their work.

It makes you feel so useful to be included in something in a meaningful way. As a member of the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group - composed of people with dementia who advise the province on policy – I’m a huge supporter of such opportunities.

Those of us who are able should be encouraged to volunteer. If it has to be with supervision, so be it. We still have two feet and a heart.

Life doesn't end when Alzheimer's begins. Learn how to be there for those who are #StillHere ►