Using ICT in activities for people with dementia

Benefits and challenges of using ICTs

From an organisational perspective, commissioners and inspectors can see that you understand the importance of meaningful activities for people with dementia.

Benefits

Choice and control

Using ICTs is ‘personalisation in action’. There is some form of ICT use to engage everyone. For example, many activities with people with dementia involve music. You could use ICTs in a number of ways to facilitate this – from staff setting up a selection of tracks on an audio player, to the person with dementia being helped to find their favourite lyrics online, to using an ‘app’ (a computer program) which allows them to play the piano. ICTs can give people more choice and control in their daily activities, whatever their impairment.

More appealing services

More and more people see ICTs as part of their everyday lives, and this includes people with dementia. Offering activities that use technology can encourage people to engage with services. For example, a course on digital film at a day centre can bring in people who otherwise may not come. A residential home or day care centre with good ICT facilities will appeal to families as well as people with dementia. From an organisational perspective, commissioners and inspectors can see that you understand the importance of meaningful activities for people with dementia.

Interactions with people

ICTs are ice breakers. Finding out about someone’s life or interests by following connections on the web is a great way to understand and begin to know a person. Using tablets such as iPads in a care home can get kids talking to their grandparents.

ICT in action: An inter-generational ice breaker

One of our residents is a gentleman aged 90. His six-year-old great grandson was showing him how to use an iPad. They began by using the iFishPond app and then moved on to playing with the Talking Tom Cat app, which is a cat that blows raspberries! It caused much laughter and enjoyment for everyone concerned. It was a very special thing to see.

ICT in action: YouTube videos spark engagement

One of our residents was usually quite disengaged, but became animated and got really involved in a YouTube clip of vintage cars. Restoring vintage cars had been his hobby and passion. His wife saw this and was amazed, as she hadn’t seen him so engaged in a very long time. She even went on to buy a tablet computer for the home.

Participation in the world

Being an active citizen depends more and more on using ICTs. Whether it is accessing online news, emailing an MP or councillor, or simply speaking to friends and family who are abroad, people with dementia have the same right to digital access as everyone else.

Keeping intellectually and physically active

ICTs open up avenues for intellectual stimulation for everyone, regardless of their interests and capabilities. The internet puts a world of knowledge at your fingertips. Interactive computer games can improve hand–eye coordination and overall mobility for individuals or groups. Sensory games can engage people whose condition means that other forms of communication are not possible.

Improved skills for staff

Encouraging staff to use ICTs with people with dementia means they will improve their own ICT knowledge and skills. It also means the working day can be made more varied, which improves morale for staff and people with dementia alike.

ICT in action: Google Street View as a group game

We use Google Street View to find where people at the day centre used to live, or a pub they used to go to. Some people understand that if you put your finger on the street in Street View and push it you go down the street, which is really cool and extremely amusing.

Access to free resources

Of course ICT kit is not free, but once you are set up and have an internet connection there is a world of free resources out there to support almost every activity imaginable.

The ability to store, copy and share resources

You can make copies of precious photographs and papers, you can create, save and update text documents, and you can easily share them with others.

Challenges

Staff confidence

You don’t need lots of technical knowledge to use ICTs with people with dementia, but staff may not feel they have the right skills. Remember there may be people already in your organisation with IT skills who can train others. There are plenty of free online tutorials – YouTube is a great source for these. Also remember that families and carers may have IT skills – and kit – that they can be encouraged to use with the person with dementia.

Finding the space

Finding room to set up a computer can be hard. If space is limited, consider getting a laptop, which can be moved easily from one place to another. A private room is important if you are doing a one-to-one activity such as life story work, however a dedicated ‘computer room’ may not be a good thing as you want all ICTs to be integrated into daily activities.

Being patient and not forcing the issue

ICTs will not suit everyone. Not all staff will want to use them, and neither will all the people with dementia you are supporting. It is important that this is not seen as a failure. ICTs are only one way of engaging people in an activity, they are not an activity in themselves. You may also find that people’s interest in using ICTs comes and goes. Be patient. As with all person-centred care, the wishes and preferences of the individual are the most important thing.

Challenges of dementia

There are some specific challenges in using ICTs with people with dementia, which we look at in the feature Introducing ICTs to people with dementia in this section.