Touchscreen tech helps people with dementia feel like their old selves

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In 2005, some years before the development of the tablet computer, an EPSRC-supported team from the universities of Dundee and St Andrews, led by Dr Norman Alm, developed a simple touchscreen aid to help people with dementia recall their memories.

  • Touchscreen technology helps people with dementia recall their memories
  • A spin-out company, Circa Connect, formed to bring research to market
  • People with dementia using the touchscreen system felt more like their old selves

The aid was simple to use and stimulated more enjoyable, rewarding conversation between people with dementia and those who care for them. During development, the CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid) system was tested with 40 people with dementia in day care, nursing home and family situations, with many carers reporting that the person seemed like their old selves again.

CIRCA exploits the fact that, while people with dementia find it hard to recall recent events, longer-term memory is less affected by their condition.

The team secured further EPSRC funding from the EPSRC-led UK Research and Innovation Digital Economy Programme to develop an interactive multimedia activity system that people with dementia could enjoy using on their own.

The research led to the formation of Circa Connect Ltd, a spin out company, which brought together expertise in the fields of design, psychology and computer science, to commercialise the work.

The BBC subsequently launched an online system, called RemArc, based on the CIRCA research, which uses as its content the extensive BBC archive of film clips, photos, music and the spoken word.

CIRCA team member Dr Arlene Astell, who was at University of St Andrews School of Psychology during the project, says: “The declining ability of people with dementia to hold conversations causes a lot of stress and frustration. Helping them access their memories makes living with dementia more bearable and less distressing for the person and their carers.”

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