March 01, 2020
How web-based applications can be a non-pharmacological intervention to promote brain health and help older adults age well in place.
Canada’s population has experienced a fundamental shift over the past few years, with older adults outnumbering children in the country by a large percentage. Roughly one in seven Canadians is over the age of 65; by 2030 this number will jump to nearly one in four. Of those seniors, the majority are opting to age at home and are looking for options to help them age well while staying put – and technology can help them achieve this.
As our aging population continues to grow, more and more older adults are experiencing social isolation and loneliness and becoming vulnerable to accompanying health risks including cognitive decline, depression and heart disease. While there has been a boom in care-oriented apps, which help those who care for older adults better monitor their loved ones and their health concerns, there is an opportunity for technology to address the problem of reduced access to meaningful recreation among older adults.
In an effort to carry out our vision of creating a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfilment, Baycrest created ArtontheBrain, a web-based therapeutic intervention that uses visual art as a vehicle for mental stimulation and socialization. This app looks to fight the epidemic of limited recreation for older adults by using technology to provide a safe way for seniors to socialize, while benefitting from games and activities that promote memory and improve cognitive function.
“With the number of older adults expected to more than double to 1.5 billion in 2050 worldwide, there is an urgent need to find new ways to help adults age well and at home, ensuring continued quality of life, says Aviva Altschuler, manager, Culture, Arts & Innovation at Baycrest and co-creator of ArtontheBrain. “This tool is unique because it is inclusive, it fosters self-agency among users and the interaction is driven by the capabilities of the user, not the technology.”
Scientifically validated by an international team of cognitive aging experts, the app uses a growing database of artwork provided by museum partners to engage users in a variety of activities derived from neuropsychological research. Through the categories of learn, play and mingle, these activities have been shown to improve wellness measures including psychological well-being, health-related quality of life and attention.
“Being able to partner with museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario and tap into their repertoire of artwork gives the user unique access to content that they would otherwise have to travel thousands of miles to see. This way the user is able to benefit from interacting with the art right at home.” Adds Altschuler.
According to a study from the Pew Research Centre, about one in three older adults already plays games online every day. Imagine if apps being accessed by older adults were not only based in entertainment, but beneficial for their brain health as well. With more than 564,000 Canadians currently living with some form of dementia, and that number is expected to rise to 937,000 in 15 years, apps based on improving brain health could help make a real difference. While dementia is not an invariable part of aging, age is the most important risk factor.
“Research shows that arts-based recreation has positive health outcomes, such as enhanced well0being and a reduced risk of dementia,” says Dr. Kelly Murphy, a psychologist at Baycrest and co-creator of ArtontheBrain. “The app is designed to have the same positive health impacts as face-to-face recreation programs currently available for older adults, while breaking down barriers such as lack of transportation, sensory loss and mobility issues. The outcome aims of this tool are to help promote aging well in place, which can translate to measurable savings for the health economy.”
ArtontheBrain aims to be a solution that healthcare professionals can “prescribe” to patients, including those with cognitive decline, as a non-pharmacological intervention to promote brain health and wellness. The user benefits from the ability to build leisure capacity, stay connected, keep cognitively engaged and age well.
You can learn more about ArtontheBrain and try the app by visiting Baycrest.org/tryartonthebrain.