Help button

Many of the supportive devices in dementia care feature one big, often red “Help” button. Help can initiate a telephone connection to a call center or a family member, send GPS data to enable help or send out a noise signal. It is a tool with a very strong rationale behind it: If someone, who may have problems communicating, gets distressed on their own, they might not be able to follow complicated instruction, but a one-button-push should bring help quickly.

But I am wondering whether this rationale does take the emotional side of “asking for help” into account. Do people feel comfortable to do so? Do they remember that this anonymous button connects to a friendly voice on the other end? Might they be in a public place where a loud voice talking to them might be considered embarrassing?

Philipson (2015, 972) studied how people felt towards getting help when they experienced what could be considered early signs of dementia. The attitudes in this study show that people might delay seeking for help:

“The majority of respondents indicated they would seek help if they thought they had the early signs and symptoms of dementia and were most likely to do so from a GP (82.2%) or a partner (49.4%). Whilst very few people indicated that they would not seek help from anyone if they thought they had the early signs of dementia (7.2%), more than one-fifth of the sample (21.3%) indicated that they would delay seeking help for as long as possible.”

It would be interesting to see whether this trend relates to other aspects after the diagnosis as well.

To learn more about this I looked again into the literature on dementia and tchnology to find examples of how people interacted with these kind of buttons.

The idea to use the one-button-solution is commonly shared. Donnelly (2008) used it as a cover on a mobile phone to make access easier and Orpwood (2007) used it when making a CD player easier to use for people living with dementia. All these examples are slightly more neutral than a help-button, but underline how strong the idea of having a single button is a good solution in developments for people living with dementia. Robinson (2009, 499) added a one-push help button to their navigating device: “If someone with dementia becomes concerned or feels they are lost, they can trigger the device to send amessage by pressing their panic button.”

Use of technology by people living with dementia is not as researched as its development. Nonetheless in the examples I found, the single-button, help-button is discussed, but not as positively. Gibson (2015, 7) found in interviews that people were hesitant to wear the panic-buttons provided as they got scared or embarrased when pushing the button by accident:

“Telecare or pendant alarms were designed to be passive, only alerting a person to
their presence in the event of an emergency. However in practice their activation occurred much more frequently, with potentially distressing consequences.”

Testing a simplified mobile phone surface, Brankaert, Snaphaan and den Ouden (2014, 293f) introduced a help-function, which was “liked” but not used:

“On the contrary, the other new feature, a help button was received less positive. Participants often pressed it by accident, causing moments of distress. Nevertheless, some caregivers felt more secure knowing that for example their spouse had access to such a feature.”

Lindsay (2012, 522) critizise that “commercially available assistive technologies for people with dementia generally have a safety focus.” (Lindsay, 2012, 522)

Robinson (2009, 499f) reported that one of their participants “was worried that the panic button on the device might be too easy to press although, following explanation of the safeguards, she became less concerned.”

Even though the number of examples of use of those buttons is limited I feel it is enough to question the concept. It will be both interesting to see in which other areas this kind of single-button solution is used and how people integrate it – both into their products and into their lives-, and how people would feel about a help-button in general. What should it look like? What should it do? Would they use it?





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