Dementia: How Do You Teach Clients to Use Assistive Technology?

Dementia: How Do You Teach Clients to Use Assistive Technology?

If you have worked with people with dementia, you have likely trained them to use a new technology or piece of equipment, such as a cane or walker. I might even guess that the experience was, let’s say… frustrating!

Can people with dementia really learn to use low- or high-end technologies to support performance and if so, under what circumstances? Below are some considerations to keep in mind.


By first identifying what activities the person needs and wants to do, the therapist arms oneself with the most powerful training tool — motivation. Often, we become stuck training patients to do tasks that are meaningless to them and the price we pay is their decreased attention, memory, and engagement during therapy.   The solution? Discover the activities that matter to your patients and then match the technology to the activity and to the level of dementia.

Low Vision Aids vs. Environmental Adaptations

Most older adults present with changes in their vision, which are corrected with glasses. However, many older adults live with low vision diagnoses that are not correctable with lenses, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.

Depending on the level of dementia, you would want to address the visual impairment differently:

  • People with mild dementia benefit from training in the use of devices that improve functional vision, such as magnifying glasses.
  • People with mild or moderate dementia benefit from environmental modifications that maximize spared vision and do not require the patient to “remember” to use a strategy.

ADL and Memory Aids

Are the long-handled bath sponges, reachers, and sock aids piling up from lack of use by people with dementia? Who are the best candidates for ADL equipment? Which of the following are better memory prompts: Post-It Notes? Calendars? Alarms? Therapists may need to reconsider the candidates and goals for adaptive equipment. Modified independence in the use of a device/strategy is a lofty goal for someone with diminished memory.

Four Steps to Gain the Desired Function 

Perhaps, some of your training misfortunes lie in how you train your patients. The following step-by-step process helps maximize your results:

  1. Prioritize goals and identify resources
  2. Observe tasks and identify personal strengths and limitations for performing tasks
  3. Develop a list of practiceable steps
  4. Implement the training using motor learning principles

Are you skipping any steps outlined above? Each stage is important, as it builds the foundation for the following steps.

So, your patients are likely to learn a new technology faster when you engage them in meaningful activities and consider their memory limitations – adapting your training accordingly.