Study Shows Computer Engagement Reduces Use of Antipsychotic Drugs for Those with Dementia

Mar 10, 2016, 10:00 ET from Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., March 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- As experts seek to reduce antipsychotic drug use among people with dementia, a new study shows engagement with bedside computers can have a positive impact. Researchers have found a clinically significant decrease in utilization of the medication for those using touchscreen computers with an interface tailored to the interests and abilities of seniors. The technology also positively affected behavioral episodes, stress, and depression, and even caused users to regain some cognitive function. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has set a national goal for nursing homes to reduce the use of antipsychotic drugs by 30% by the end of 2016.

Known as The Birdsong Initiative, the study was conducted among residents of the Hoy Nursing Care Center by the non-profit life plan community Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach, Va. in conjunction with Eastern Virginia Medical School and Virginia Wesleyan College. The Hoy Nursing Care Center is in Westminster-Canterbury's healthcare wing. The initiative was named in honor of Westminster-Canterbury Foundation board member Sue Birdsong and her husband George, who donated $228,000 to fund the project. It was conducted between June and December, 2015.

During the 24-week study, 31 Hoy Center residents whose dementia makes it difficult to participate in social activities used computers to regularly access enriching content customized to their personal interests and cognitive ability. The touchscreen technology is designed to be easy for seniors and offers Skype, social networking and a spectrum of content. It was developed by Colorado-based It's Never 2 Late and is referred to as iN2L.

Meantime, another 31 residents with dementia took part in routine personalized therapeutic recreation programs that were non-computerized.  Twelve weeks into the initiative, the two groups switched roles, so that by the time the study concluded, all of the participants had used iN2L.

At the project's finish, researchers found a clinically significant reduction of antipsychotic drug doses among four in 10, or 40%, of the people in the intervention group across the 24- week period who had been taking the medications throughout the study. Throughout the entire study, six of seven people taking part, or 86%, who are on continuous antipsychotic medications decreased their use to various degrees.

"To see a clinically significant drop in the utilization of these drugs is very exciting and important," said neuropsychologist Dr. Scott Sautter, associate professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and principal investigator for The Birdsong Initiative. "Antipsychotics can produce side effects such as blurred vision, drowsiness, muscle spasms and even cause diabetes and weight gain. If behavioral episodes can be affected in positive ways and without using what we call 'pharmaceutical restraints,' it greatly enhances life for those with dementia and opens new possibilities for them."

In addition to the medication decrease, organizers of The Birdsong Initiative noted other positive outcomes, including:

  • Behavioral episodes became less frequent for 54% of participants, ceasing entirely for 30% of those. They became less intense for 75%.
  • Depression decreased 41%.
  • Cognitive / brain power scores rose for nearly 23.5%, with an average increase of 4.86 points on a 30-point scale.
  • Stress indicators for staff caregivers dropped by 47%.

"The findings are game changers and our Hoy Center residents surprised us by how they embraced the technology, far more than any of us guessed," said Westminster-Canterbury CEO Ben Unkle. "They used the computers with student interns guiding them for five hours a week. To our astonishment, they also utilized the computers on their own nearly 31 hours weekly on top of the intern-assisted time. This flies in the face of conventional thinking that people with dementia can't learn and enjoy new things. It goes to show how much potential there is for addressing their disease and improving their lives through creative, non-pharmaceutical approaches."

The Alzheimer's Association projects that the number of Americans with dementia will rise by 40% in the coming decade; in Virginia, it is expected to increase by 46%.

"The Birdsong Initiative was the first in what we plan to be ongoing work with academia to look at new ways to improve aging for individuals and families locally and nationally," Unkle said. "We anticipate that future work will look at a wide variety of senior issues with the goal of promoting not only longer, but also better, lives by leveraging the power of staying engaged mentally and physically. Recent research has repeatedly indicated that remaining engaged is the secret sauce to aging optimally."

Twenty percent of Americans will be 65 or above by 2030, compared to about 14% in 2012. In Virginia, people 60 and above will represent almost 24% of the population in 2030, an increase of 30% from 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Video of scenes and participant comments from The Birdsong Initiative can be accessed at

Note to Media:

Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay
Please Call us a "Life Plan Community" or a "Community"
NOT a "Home" or a "Facility"

Common Misconceptions

Misconception #1: All residents at Westminster-Canterbury (WC) need assistance in some way or cannot care for themselves.
Fact: 80% of our residents are independent.
This means they reside in apartment homes and villas as large as 1,900 sq feet and receive no personal assistance. They do, however, enjoy the convenience of a restaurant quality dining program; maintenance of their home, including housekeeping; and an intellectual, social, spiritual and physical wellness program. These independent residents are just like you and me, they just happen to be 62 years of age or better. Some still work and run businesses.

Misconception #2: You should come to WC when you need care, or feel you are just about to require it.
Fact: You MUST be healthy and without need for personal care to move here.
There are admissions requirements to become a resident, and individuals must be able to live independently when they move to WC.  If they cannot, it is too late, and we have to turn them away, meaning they must pursue other options because they waited too long. We want to help people, so we need them to know they must come to us when they are still independent. Once here, residents will have access to "assisted living" and "nursing care" through WC's full continuum of care.

Misconception #3:. Westminster-Canterbury is a nursing home.
Fact: Residents in "assisted living" and "nursing care" represent just 20% of our population. WC offers both, but only to those adults who first join us in independent living.
You will hear the nursing portion of our campus referred to as the Hoy Health Care Center or the Hoy Nursing Care Center.

Thanks for your understanding & assistance in providing accurate information to your audience.

SOURCE Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay