Personalized technology brings stimulation to dementia patients

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Patients with dementia living in long-term care facilities are often on their own when it comes to mental stimulation. Without much interaction, many patients develop behaviors such as hitting, screaming and wandering. A study, set to be presented at the 2017 International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care, explains how a new interactive tool is able to increase engagement and improve outcomes.

Currently, many dementia patients are given antipsychotic medications or music therapy to curb harmful behaviors. But medications often create adverse side effects and music therapy takes time out of the staff’s day. A team of human ergonomics researchers, led by Andrea Wilkinson, a postdoctoral research fellow in mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Toronto, developed Ambient Activity (AA).

AA resembles an old-style television to give dementia patients a sense of nostalgia when using the device. Attached to the wall, AA is able display personalized content such as pictures, music and videos that have been selected by caregivers and the patient’s family to give each resident a personalized program at any time of day.

"AA aims to treat the cause rather than the symptom by creating meaningful physical, mental, and social engagement with personalized activities and content,” said Wilkinson. “Our goal is to help people with dementia maintain their physical and cognitive status as much as possible while enhancing their quality of life." Testing and evaluation prior to commercial release of the device is still under way.”