1 October 2020 | Comment | Article by Ellice Harding

Memory loss: the role of assistive technology - ABI Week 2020

Action for Brain Injury Week 2020 is focusing on memory loss. Memory loss is a common symptom of acquired brain injury (ABI) and sadly something that all too many of our clients are affected by.

Memory problems are broad and varied. They can be confusing, heart-breaking, frustrating, and dangerous. People who have suffered an ABI, and their loved ones, will all experience memory loss differently, yet the impact on their lives can be equally as damaging.

For some, memory loss can be subtle. It can mean forgetting what day of the week it is, where you left your keys or struggling to find words mid-sentence. Such things can easily be excused as problems that everyone is guilty of every so often, but it is only when you know the person and spend time with them the real extent of the issues become obvious. Memory problems like these still cause immense frustration and annoyance and can make even chatting with friends daunting.

For others, problems with memory loss may be much more obvious. It may mean asking the same question multiple times in the same conversation or forgetting the names - or even the faces - of loved ones. It can even mean having no recollection of how you spent an entire day; and having to deal with the anxiety of time unaccounted for.

Fortunately, while memory problems are not something fixed by surgery or medication, there are many aides and equipment available to help and support those suffering from memory loss. As with much of modern-day life, technology has a big part to play and technological advancements mean ABI survivors with memory problems are increasingly able to live more independent lives.

Assistive technology comes in many forms. People often find that they already own devices that can be set up and used in ways to support their memory. For example, smartphones and tablets can be used to keep an up-to-date diary, with reminders of what needs to be done and when, and to create to-do lists and notes of what you have done. Smartphones and tablets can be synchronised with smartwatches, so alerts pop up on your wrist too. Reminders can also be set up on smart speakers; for example, daily alerts when medication is due.

There are many apps available too which can help. For example, IFTTT (If This Then That) is a free app that allows users to create automatic reactions to their daily activities. For example, if you leave a certain area, such as your home or office, the app can be programmed to send a text message, notifying your loved ones. The app can also be programmed to automatically turn phones onto/off silent when entering or leaving certain locations so that there’s no worry about not hearing it or it going off when it shouldn’t.

Products such as key trackers (and other locator devices) can be purchased, to help locate misplaced keys. A small chip is added to your keyring and can be tracked using an app on your phone. Wearable timers are also helpful in eliminating issues such as forgetting about food left in the oven.

People who struggle to take in and retain information may benefit from a smartpen. Smartpens sync audio recordings with markings on a specialist paper, meaning you can playback what was said at the time the marking was paid. This may be useful if verbal directions or instructions were given, as you don’t have to worry about remembering what was said or writing the information down in time. The ability to read or write is not required to use the pen, as it recognises any type of marking or drawing.

Personal, wearable cameras may be suitable for those who have difficulty remembering what they have done during a day. A range of such cameras exists, including Microsoft's SenseCam. The small camera is worn around your neck and takes hundreds of photos regularly throughout the day. At the end of the day, or at some later point, you can go back through the photos and remind yourself of what you did and who you were with.

Increasingly, people with brain injuries may find themselves living in ‘Smart Homes’, with specialist devices to assist with memory problems. Fridges with built-in sensors alert you if they detect the odour of gone off food. Baths with sensors sound an alarm if the bath is close to over-flowing in case you forget the tap is running. Further, voice-activated appliances such as washing machines and televisions mean you do not have to worry about what buttons to press and different settings; rather, the appliance can be set up to follow simple voice commands.

As you can see, a variety of products and apps are available to assist those with memory problems following an acquired brain injury. While these products do come at a cost, ABI survivors with personal injury claims can seek to recover these costs as part of their claim, as the products can assist with their rehabilitation and help to improve their quality of life. The Neurolaw department at Hugh James specialises in representing clients who have sustained brain injuries, and other catastrophic injuries. We have great experience in recovering the costs of assistive technology as part of personal injury claims.

For more on Action for Brain Injury Week and memory loss, the Headway UK website has lots of information, including personal accounts, advice and ways you can get involved. Hugh James works closely with Headway, along with other charities such as Child Brain Injury Trust and The Silverlining, who all provide tremendous support to those affected by brain injury.

About the Author:

Ellice Harding is a solicitor in the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury team, representing claimants with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.

Ellice started her training contract in September 2017 and spent most of her time working in the Neurolaw department, dealing with both catastrophic injury litigation and Court of Protection Matters. Ellice qualified in September 2019 and now specialises in catastrophic injury litigation.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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