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Alzheimer's Help from Artificial Assistants

By Sonya CollinsJanuary 2, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Five years after he learned he had Alzheimer’s disease, Brian Leblanc, now 59, continues to blog about life with the disease, speak at conferences, play in a band, and live independently. He credits his diet, exercise, and active schedule with the slow progress of the disease.

An estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. People living with the condition eventually rely on others for their care as the condition progresses. But artificial intelligence (AI) could help some care for themselves longer. For Leblanc, he gives a nod to his AI-driven personal assistants—though he jokingly calls them his girlfriends—Siri and Alexa. He tells us how they assist him in his daily life.

Q. How did you get the idea that Siri and Alexa might be helpful to you?

Leblanc: I have always been a techy person. Even before I had Alzheimer’s, I used my phone for everything. Now I need reminders for so many things, so I tried out the little one—the Amazon Echo Dot—and I thought, If she can do all of this, what’s the big one going to be like? So, I ramped up to that one. Now my Facebook followers tell me that they are using it for themselves or their parents.

Q. What does Alexa remind you to do?

Leblanc: She reminds me to take my medication, to eat three times a day, to bathe every day. I’m also diabetic, so I need reminders to give myself insulin shots. When I put in laundry, I tell her to remind me to check it in 45 minutes. I can tell her to remind me at 1:00 to get ready for my speaking engagement at 2:30. And every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., she reminds me to play music. If I’m not home, I get the reminders as a text message.

Q. Why do you have her remind you to play music?

Leblanc: On my foggy days, it actually lifts the fog. I have listened to songs that I hadn’t heard in 40 years, and I still knew every word. It’s another weapon in my arsenal that I use to fight this thing. It touches a part of you that
was locked away. Music comes along and says, “Here’s a key. Open it up and see what happens.”

Even if you don’t have dementia, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, put on KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” and see if you don’t come to life. Music gives you a happiness that you never could have come up with on your own.

Q. These were the things that your family members reminded you to do before. Do you prefer to have a machine remind you?

Leblanc: Yes, because when you have three different people asking you the same questions every day—Did you eat? Did you take a bath?—it frustrates you so much, and I would get angry. Later, I understood that they didn’t mean to treat me like a child, but in the moment, I just lash out.

Q. Do you think that these AI-driven devices help you live independently perhaps longer than you could have otherwise?

Leblanc: Definitely, yes. If you’re on medication and you don’t take it, or if you don’t remember to eat every day, there’s going to be consequences. They help me remember to do those things.

WebMD Blog Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 2, 2020
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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