Dementia, along with Alzheimer’s, are both highly debilitating disorders that can cause profound damage to the quality of life of those suffering with them. Over time, dementia becomes progressively worse, a process that can be incredibly distressing for both sufferers and their loved ones.
In the fight to slow down the effects of dementia, there has been a growing interest in the use of touchscreen technology and interactions for residents in care settings living with the disorder. One study has shown that touchscreen tablets have been used to support a range of activities such as reminiscence, communication, cognitive stimulation and social interaction. By letting dementia sufferers interact with such technology, it’s been reported that the wellbeing and quality of life for both residents and staff have been improved as a result.
With the help of previous case studies, we’ll take a closer look at the various contexts in which touch technology can be applied in care home settings, and how it helps to support patients living with dementia.
The benefits of touchscreen technology
For both activity co-ordinators and residents in care homes, touchscreen technology has been shown to benefit in several ways, including:
- Portability: Touchscreens such as iPads and other tablets are easy to carry around and always on hand. This allows the activity co-ordinator to conduct activities with residents who are either bed-bound or less mobile, as well as those who may be more reserved and less willing to join in on group activities. Additionally, if there is a group of residents, it can also be passed around so that everyone has time with the tablet.
- A single resource: In a care home environment, the usual activities may involve lots of different resources such as stacks of print outs, CDs, board games, DVDs and craft equipment, which may also necessitate the use of technology like CD and DVD players as well as computers. A touchscreen conveniently collects many of these previous resources in one place, with the only real extra being a cable to connect the touchscreen tablet to a television.
- Flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness: If activity co-ordinators need to swap between apps and activities, then a touchscreen can easily make the switch. This means that activity co-ordinators can easily respond to preferences and needs when they come up, without having to search for other resources when sessions end up changing.
- Ease of use: Compared to holding a pen or paintbrush, touchscreens require less dexterity to master, so residents are able to interact with them using just their finger. And since font sizes, colours and contrast can all be adjusted, it’s easy to tailor the visuals to suit the needs of residents with different abilities and preferences. Likewise, the ease of use means that touchscreens give residents the ability to maintain control while also letting them make their own choices.
- Cost effectiveness: Apart from the initial up-front cost, touchscreens are a relatively cheap way of trying new activity ideas, especially since many apps are free and don’t require investing in other physical resources.
- Novelty: Touchscreen technology may be unfamiliar to most residents, so there’s an undeniable novelty value to interacting with them. This helps to foster intrigue and interest, encouraging residents to familiarise themselves and engage with touchscreens and tablet when compared to previous technology.
The impact of touchscreens on care home residents
In the study mentioned at the beginning of this article, iPads were found to be a way to bring together residents across a home, no matter what their care needs, abilities and preferences were. With regards to those with dementia, the flexibility and simplicity of such touchscreen capabilities led to reduced isolation and greater social interaction.
Specifically, it was reported that residents responded positively to activity sessions where they could see old films or songs on the screen, leading to them singing along with the words. This engagement resulted in greater conversation and more general reminiscence.
Reminiscence is the sharing of life experiences, memories and stories from the past. Typically, a person with dementia is more able to recall things from many years ago compared to recent memories, so reminiscence – and by extension, touchscreens – can help provide those with dementia a sense of competence and confidence through using a skill that’s still at their disposal.
The study also makes note of the effects that iPads had on residents’ mood, with three specific examples pointing to the positive outcomes as a result of interaction with the tablet.
- First, an activity co-ordinator was able to calm and distract a resident with dementia, who was described as “agitated”, by using the Fishpond app. Upon seeing the fish respond to the activity co-ordinator touching the screen, they were soon engrossed by it, leading to a change in their behaviour.
- In the second example, it was reported that one resident turned to music if ever they were feeling low. The iPad made it easier for the activity co-ordinator to tailor the music choices to the resident’s requests.
- When one resident became agitated and wanted to leave their care home to return to their own house, the activity co-ordinator was able to use the iPad to look up where the resident lived previously. Upon showing their house and surrounding areas using Google Maps, the resident became more settled, triggering positive memories and conversations in them as a result.
In residents with sensory needs who are bed bound, touchscreens were seen to be very useful too. By bringing the tablet to them, it allows them to partake in calming activities that have a sensory focus.
Crucially, touchscreen technology can help to promote control, independence and choice in residents. Activity co-ordinators can let the residents know what the options are, and then they’re free to choose activities in ways that suit their needs.
As part of the LifeSize Touch range, we feature a series of touchscreen tables which are ideally suited to elderly patients and people with dementia. Our care home touchtables are purpose-built to help people within a care home setting enjoy the many benefits of touchscreen technology. With large screens, lightweight designs and toughened glass, the tables can really aid elderly care home residents and patients with dementia.
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