When ALZCOM Founder’s mother, Brigitte, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Ralph got to thinking about how he could help her cope. While out for a run soon after her diagnosis, the veteran IT executive dreamed up an idea to create a simple, remote-controlled reminder solution and Alzheimer’s Communications, or ALZCOM, was born.
Enlisting the help of his former business colleague and now partner, Art, a retired computer programmer with an impressive 50+ years in the IT field, the pair went to work to create a website that was easy to use, affordable and most of all helpful. Art’s beloved wife of over 40 years, Dorothy, was the first patient to try the ALZCOM prototype.
“One happy unintended consequence [of using ALZCOM] is that I am no longer the ‘bossy one’; the one who is always nagging about appointments or grocery shopping or whatever,” Art says with a chuckle. “Dorothy is ‘still there’ and has the natural human resentment toward being told what to do. With the help of her ‘new memory machine’ she knows when things are supposed to happen. Now she is the ‘bossy one’ and happily hunts me down at appointment time and makes sure I know. She loves it. Me too! It has helped move our relationship back to a true partnership.”
As loved ones know all too well, Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that robs sufferers of their memories – large and small – forgetting whether and when they brushed their teeth up to the devastation of forgetting their loved ones entirely. ALZCOM assists the patient’s failing memory by having the caregiver remotely input daily reminders which in turn provide the patient with a light musical prompt and a reminder button that must be pressed in order to stop the music. And while ALZCOM was developed for those with Alzheimer’s disease, the website can be utilized for anyone suffering from memory loss or other cognitive impairment.
“Putting a note on a calendar does not work well for someone with Alzheimer’s, so we have developed a simple internet-based way to gently remind the cognitively impaired person of events at the right time,” Art explains. “To avoid getting too technical, it doesn’t make any difference of what type of device you have available – iPad, Android tablet or cousin Bobby’s old laptop! The cognitively impaired person does not have to interface at all with the browser except when a reminder pops up and then they just have to touch the screen or click a button to acknowledge the reminder. You now have a calendar for Alzheimer’s patients that finds them.” Unanswered reminder alerts are sent to the caregiver’s email or via SMS so they can check in.
This feature is especially helpful for remote caregivers like Ralph. He installed a computer, linked to the ALZCOM web site, in his mother’s home in Berlin, Germany in 2014 and both he and his sister (who also lives in Berlin) control the reminders remotely. “Sadly, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s and we know it’s going to get worse for our mother,” says Ralph. “But our goal with ALZCOM is to keep those suffering from the disease as independent as possible for as long as possible as well as help ease the burden on the caregivers, who are often time family members.”
“We created this website to help our families,” Ralph continues. “But Art and I really hope that we can help other patients and families better cope with the devastating effects of this disease or other cognitive impairment.”