Dementia Patients Should Inform Tech Development

February 26, 2018 - Michael Ellenbogen

My daughter recently bought me a Google Home Mini. As someone who lives with dementia and used to be a leader in the IT field, I always thought one could be helpful to me and many folks with disabilities. I quickly realized I was wrong. To be sure, there are a number of helpful things that I can do with the Google Home Mini. For example, I can ask any questions -- what is the temperature or when will it snow? I can ask information about the latest news, and set reminders for meetings and deadlines. The voice assistant can even tell jokes. However, it is not geared to people like me who have issues with speaking and hesitate in getting the words out. The moment I pause, the device's voice assistant thinks I have stopped talking and no longer works, or appears to "thinks" that was the end to my question. Then it usually comes back with the wrong information or says it does not understand. It is very frustrating because it does not give me the time needed to talk.

When I can get a complete question out in time,  the voice assistance speaks too fast when replying and because of that I have trouble processing and remembering the information. It's sad because I believe this tool could help so many with all types of disabilities. But I don’t think people like me were included in the design process. Based on my own technology background, I think the changes are simple if Google had considered all needs. It’s a reminder that people with cognitive impairment or dementia should be included in the process of designing some new technologies. 

There are many things that Google Home Mini could be used for to make my life so much easier and to allow people with dementia to live at home longer. For example, the operating speed could easily be corrected by including a customization screen allowing users to slow down the voice assistant’s response and to play back if needed. It should also be able to help with additional feedback if a user gets something wrong.   

I like to listen to the same radio station daily, but I either forget the name of it or get it wrong. My device - and others like it - should remember items I had previously used and make suggestions when needed. I get very frustrated when I can’t remember the station and need to look it up on the computer.  Some other simple tasks may include allowing me to tell the voice assistant when I last took a drug, enabling me to later ask when I last took it. I do hope this was just a simple oversite and the changes can be made because for people like me this could greatly improve quality of life, and in some case, impact life and death questions. There are many great tools available, including the Google Home Mini, with great potential to support those with cognitive issues, including dementia. I hope that Google and other developers will soon see the value of tailoring to me and the millions of others living with dementia and cognitive impairment. 


About the Author


Michael Ellenbogen

UsAgainstAlzheimer's is a 501(c)(3) organization connecting networks of organizations and individuals to take action to end Alzheimer’s by 2020, while providing the general public, policy leaders and the media with vital information about Alzheimer’s disease.