Touchscreen technology is part of our lives these days. We cannot imagine how we would be without devices such as iPads, tablets or smartphones. Tablets (mobile computers with touchscreens) are relatively lightweight and can be carried around like a book. They are very easy to switch on and navigate, and there is a great variety of apps that could be downloaded onto the device allowing a quicker access to those.

Many of us don’t realise however, that touchscreen technology can also be effectively used by and with people who have dementia. The devices can be used on a one-to-one basis or in a group setting and can involve life-story, reminiscence work, or offer an aid to social interaction and be a great tool for starting up conversations. Thus, helping a person with dementia to use a tablet can often allow getting to know them better through greater understanding of their needs, past hobbies, likes and dislikes.

A tablet could also enable people with dementia to communicate with their younger family members and so improving intergenerational communications.

There are 835,000 people living with dementia in the UK in 2014; according to the projections, there will be over 1 million by 2021 (1,007,485) and 2 million by 2051 (2,092,945) people with dementia in the UK. 61% of people with dementia felt anxious or depressed and 40% felt lonely recently (Dementia 2014 report, Alzheimer’s Society)

Talking with people who have dementia about their lives can create positive emotional experiences, reduce their stress or agitation and improve their mood. As dementia is brain failure that affects all five senses, using touch screen technology can appeal not only to touch but also senses of hearing, vision and in some apps – using voice to give commands or sing.

In 2013, Warwickshire County Council, in partnership with Worcester University and Galanos House in Southam, held a project on the use of touchscreen technology with people who have dementia.

During the project, residents were enabled to engage in a variety of activities including:
• Gaming/entertainment applications e.g. snakes and ladders, feed the fish, talking Tom, playing the piano, skittles, crosswords
• Taking pictures e.g. photos of the residents baking
• Emailing and video calling external family members to keep them informed of how they are and what they are doing.
• Watching video clips on You Tube to help residents reminisce about their past including their past interests e.g. what music they liked, hobbies, favourite football teams etc.
• The use of video clips and information on ‘how to’ do certain activities on YouTube for example doing paper mache or baking a cake
• Downloading and listening to music
• Using the history app to reminisce about war time stories

Staff observed the residents and recorded for how long and what activities they did with the iPad, in a log book. The content of the staff log books was then analysed to identify common themes. Findings of the project confirmed that using touchscreen technology with people with dementia can improve communication, stimulate their memory recall, and contribute to helping them ‘Live Well with Dementia’.

Below is a list of example apps that could be used by people with dementia; we haven’t evaluated any of these, nor can we formally recommend them.

Skype: Talk to friends and family with an instant message, voice or video call on Skype for free.

Fish Pond: Make sure you have the volume turned up and the effects and ambience turned on to create realistic water sloshing noises when you touch the screen. Immerse yourself in an entirely new pond experience. Listen to the soothing forest ambience. Drag your fingers across the water and see the ripples bounce up and down. Flick your wrist to cast the rod.

Line Art: Creates magical patterns on the screen which move according to the person’s finger movements on the touchscreen. When left alone, the particles will start moving on their own.

Simon Says: Improves learning and memory skills through remembering the sequence of buttons and repeat them in the same order.

150 years of world history: Just 150 years ago the world was an entirely different place: using this app we watch the world change one year at a time, as it moves from the late Age of Empires through two world wars, the Cold War, and modern times. Every year carries its own importance and this app focuses both on the large defining events of history as well as some lesser-known but still important developments that took place.

Let’s Create! Pottery: With this app one can make pottery by throwing the clay on the wheel and create your own pots. The experience is relaxing, therapeutic and uplifting as you see the pots made.

Doodle Buddy: a simple drawing app that can be used to draw, write, virtually finger paint, and even stamp pictures onto fun backgrounds that are provided.

Sand Garden: Drag your fingers along the screen to create a pattern in the sand, add a rock using the menu at the bottom of the screen, drag your rock to your desired positions to make it stand up, then just adjust the light to create a different atmosphere.

Fluid: turns the surface of the touch screen device into an interactive liquid. It’s a relaxing application that can keep one busy for a while.

You Tube: Watch the world’s videos, read comments or listen to favourite music – all in one place.

SoundPrism: This app takes the complexity out of creating music so that all you have to do is drag your finger across the screen of colour rectangles to produce some beautiful music and harmonies.
iReminisce: iReminisce is a life story, reminiscence and family inclusion app that helps alleviate loneliness, promotes socialisation and is proven to improve wellbeing for those living with a cognitive impairment such as dementia. iReminisce works on an iPad for the user telling their story and reminiscing and on the iPad and iPhone for family members who are interacting with their loved one living with a cognitive impairment.

If you would like more information on Warwickshire’s iPads and dementia project, please contact us on dementiapartnership@warwickshire.gov.uk

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