AURORA | Introducing a family member to assisted-living can be tough. Families worry whether their parent or grandparent will be comfortable and happy. They don’t want them to be bored or lonely, and they still want to connect when they visit. With dementia, this can be even more challenging.
That’s why New Dawn Memory Care, a small retirement community in Aurora, has introduced an interactive program that helps keep seniors with dementia connected and engaged. It’s Never 2 Late, or iN2L, is an interactive touchscreen system that allows the residents to play games, watch videos, attend an online spiritual service or, perhaps, just pop some bubbles.
Singers can sing. Painters can paint (without the mess). And trivia buffs can recall the past at a time when new memories are hard to come by.
New Dawn Executive Director Lori Carter said iN2L is about building relationships and connections. The technology can help with motor functions and emotion, and Carter added that residents who have been known to have behavioral problems don’t show it as much when they’re engaged and active.
“It’s that quality of life,” Carter said. “We have managed to hit that quality and find that inner joy of finding something they have enjoyed.”
Inside New Dawn are little cabins — each cabin has an activity room equipped with the iN2L program, which includes its own touchscreen with different activities scheduled throughout the day. There’s also a second screen, this one set on wheels so it can be moved from room to room depending on who needs it where.
In the activity room, the residents can socialize and enjoy activities like karaoke. Carter said one couple uses it to dance to 80s’ music, while the Activities Director Dawn Davis recalls another resident who enjoyed using the program to feed fish with her grandchild.
“Our tagline is, ‘Dignity through technology.’ I think you can make it fun without making it childish,” said Jack York, co-founder and president of iN2L. “I think that a lot of people deal with dementia very childishly or (they’re) very demeaning.”
Another feature of the program allows residents to have customized profiles, which can showcase their specific interests — like a sports team — or display family pictures.
“We don’t bring them to our reality, we go to their reality,” Carter said. “It is very individualized, and that’s what we stand for.”
For resident Buell Davis, iN2L is about reminiscing. The long-time golfer uses it to watch others putter around the links, or he accesses a geography feature to look at pictures of Hawaii, his former home.
“That whole reminiscence therapy is just huge for them,” Davis said.
One game has residents chasing a red ladybug on the screen, which Davis said can be helpful for exercising the brain and building dexterity. Davis said one resident who loves the color red has a particular affinity for the ladybug game, which allows her to show more focus than she normally might.
“The ladybug game takes a lot more attention,” Davis said. “The more I do it with her, the longer I can hold her attention span.”
Although the program provides helps with socialization and contentment, it doesn’t slow or reverse the development of dementia, York said. The residents may not even remember the game they played the day before, but still they come out and get excited for the activities. And that, York said, is the whole point of the program: to make people happy.
“I think that there can be such an obsession with brain fitness,” York said. “The goal should be to make people’s lives better. I think that it is more than, ‘Are we seeing improvement in their cognitive scale?’ It’s, ‘Are people smiling more?’” York said.
York, Carter and Davis all said they are delighted by the progress, whatever that might look like.
“They’re happier,” Davis said. “Their life is more enjoyable because they are socializing, because they are interacting, because there is a change.”