Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

Necessity: The mother of invention

March 1, 2008
Nixon nad his grandson using videoconferencing technology

Necessity, it has been said, is the mother of invention. Ken Nixon and his two brothers have demonstrated the truth of that adage, in their case inventing an innovative way to help meet the daily needs of their mother who had Alzheimer’s disease (AD). With funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), they created a multi-purpose, Internet-based system called AttentiveCare, which has been further developed and is currently being field-tested by others faced with long-distance caregiving challenges.

The Nixon brothers, like so many long-distance caregivers, needed to solve a difficult problem—how to care for their mother and enable her to remain in her own home as long as possible when they were hundreds of miles from her.

“We were facing a tough question: What are we going to do with Mom? She wanted to stay where she was,” reflects Ken Nixon of Oklahoma City.

Back in 2001, broadband Internet service had just become available in their mother’s Arkansas rural community, so the brothers put their heads together and came up with the idea of using videoconferencing to keep in touch with her. They installed a computer with a webcam in her home so they could check on her daily, helping fulfill her wish to continue living independently on the family farm while assuring themselves that she was faring well, Ken explains.

“We had a need, and we patched the system together at first. It exceeded our expectations in being able to keep our mother independent and connected to the family. We could call and have coffee with her every morning and it got her day started off right. She had something to look forward to every day—one or two of her boys were going to visit.”

After 6 months of using the home-grown system themselves, Ken Nixon decided to develop it to help other caregivers. He applied for and in 2003 received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from NIA to refine the AttentiveCare prototype and test its feasibility in providing informal, long-distance care to people with AD.

He later received a Phase II SBIR grant to evaluate the software, services, and caregiver usage and benefits of the system in a variety of caregiving situations. Phase II study participants are caregivers of people with early-to moderate-stage AD who have had the AttentiveCare system installed in their own homes and the homes of their family members with AD.

In addition, Nixon has received research and development funding from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

AttentiveCare now features videoconferencing, multimedia reminders to help care recipients function independently, and slide shows to keep care recipients connected with family. The system’s journal and data logging capability also allows multiple caregivers to maintain and share information about the care recipient’s health and well-being, whether they are across the street or thousands of miles away.

“This project is an excellent example of how a real need, in this case the challenge of long-distance caregiving for people with AD, can be addressed through research and the inspiration of individuals at the grassroots level,” says Sidney M. Stahl, Ph.D., program officer and chief of the Individual Behavioral Processes Branch of NIA’s Behavioral and Social Research Program.

Nixon reports that his company’s research has shown the system to be well-accepted by caregivers and care recipients alike. “There was not a large body of knowledge about how computer-based technology can be used with people with dementia,” he says. “One of the questions we needed to answer was what capability does a person with dementia need to use the system. Our research has shown that if users still have language capability and can follow directions, they can effectively interface with their caregivers using the system.”

For more information

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