Using ICT in activities for people with dementia
ICTs in creative and entertainment activities
Creative and entertainment activities can vary greatly according to the setting and the individual or group involved. For some activities, the ICT is a support used by staff, and in others, the person with dementia can interact directly with the ICT.
Basic kit for creative and entertainment activities
- A desktop computer, laptop or tablet for screen-based games and for making things
- A games console for games involving physical interaction
- Access to the internet to search for photos or other resources
- A scanner if you want to use existing photos or documents
- A digital camera for taking new photos or short videos
- A printer
These kinds of games can encourage people to move, focus and interact in ways that are not always easy to provide in care settings.
ICT in action: Games on touchscreen tablets
We begin by using simple games on the tablets. Things like iFishPond, where you can touch the screen and make the water splash and you can go fishing as well, or Raindrops, which plays musical notes, or Fireworks that explode in colour. Things like this help introduce people to the touchscreen approach. We don’t look for things that are specifically to do with memory or dementia or anything. We find it’s much better to find out what people’s interests are and follow that lead.
Puzzles, board games, sensory games
Games can be a good way to introduce computers, as well as being an entertainment in themselves. They can be more intuitive if done on a tablet, but a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard can work too. You can search for websites that offer free versions of ‘traditional’ games such as:
- jigsaws (e.g. Jigzone.com)
- sudoku (e.g. the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada post a new sudoku on their website every day)
- crosswords (e.g. the Crossword Network).
There are also millions of digital games (often called ‘apps’, ‘gadgets’ or ‘widgets’) – many of which are highly sensory and tactile and can engage even people who have little cognitive capacity. Many computers come preloaded with various games. You can also search online app or gadget ‘stores’ or a search engine such as Google, for games related to a person’s interests. Many are free to access or download (though they may contain advertising) and most paid-for ones are low-cost.
Hints and tips for games activities
- Try to avoid using websites that ask you to register personal details such as email addresses unless you trust them – your address might be passed on to third parties and then you may receive loads of unwanted emails.
- You can read some useful reviews of mainstream apps that work well for people with dementia at Memory apps for dementia
- In general, don’t choose activities where there is a long delay between the user doing something and the outcome, or where the rules are very unfamiliar or complex.
ICTs can also support physical as well as mental exercise. Games consoles (such as the Nintendo Wii or the Xbox Kinect) are attached to TVs (large screens are best). Individuals or groups can engage in all kinds of sports and physical recreation by interacting with the screen. These kinds of games can encourage people to move, focus and interact in ways that are not always easy to provide in care settings.
Hints and tips for interactive games consoles
- If you are using competitive games, make sure you do not set people up to be beaten all the time!
- Sometimes games with a stationary object (e.g. golf) are easier for people with dementia than games with a constantly moving object (e.g. tennis).
- Games that offer the option to adjust the skill level are usually easier to introduce.
Arts and crafts
ICT in action: Painting together using a computer
We have a resident – Annie – who thought computers were ‘not for her’. She has some trouble with her hands and would have found an ordinary mouse too fiddly. But we got a trackball mouse, and then we opened up the Paint programme that came with our desktop computer and asked Annie to choose a colour. Using the trackball we helped her to draw an outline, change the colour, and fill in the circle. Annie was amazed at how quickly she created something on the screen. Plus she loved the ‘undo’ button.
Drawing can be another good way to introduce people to computers that support activities. It can help people understand how touchscreens work, or the relationship between a mouse and the screen. It is also a good way to find out if someone needs a special mouse or the accessibility settings on a computer changed. There is usually drawing software such as Microsoft Paint on desktop computers and laptops, and there are lots of drawing apps on touchscreen tablets. There are also apps and gadgets for other kinds of arts and crafts, such as pottery. Search online app or gadget ‘stores’ or a search engine such as Google for arts and crafts related to a person’s interests.
ICT can be used to make a range of items that you can print such as cards, calendars or presentations, as well as practical items for local use such as signs, menus, maps and newsletters. Using a computer has some advantages over traditional craft methods:
- ideas and images that work can be saved and re-used
- multiple copies can be made cheaply and easily
- digital versions can be emailed to distant family and friends.
TV, radio and films online
ICT in action: Showing films using a projector
We use a projector screen to show old movies that our residents are interested in. We hand out popcorn and then we have a group discussion after the movie. It’s a good group experience and it stimulates people to talk and share ideas.
You can schedule broadcast radio and television programmes around an individual’s preferences, or for a group session. All the major broadcasters now have a version of the BBC’s online iPlayer, which lets you watch TV programmes or listen to radio shows online at a time that suits you. Most programmes are available for 7–28 days after they are broadcast. Many newer TVs can also connect directly to online players. There are also websites offering free movies. Here are just a few examples, but there are plenty of others:
It is best to search for these kinds of services in advance of any planned activity – and remember the internet can turn up things you don’t expect!
Further information: Licences for showing films
If you are showing films in a communal area and the films are covered by copyright (which most are), you will probably need a Public Video Screening Licence. Filmbank have further information on these licences, including ones specifically for care homes.
Photography and film-making
Photography can be a great activity for people with dementia, and digital technologies give you lots of options. For example, use a digital camera to help someone take pictures of friends and family to make a digital photo album. This is an activity everyone can engage in, from taking and editing photos and providing ideas or information for captions, to choosing layouts or colour schemes. Free software that comes with many digital cameras allows you to add a voice-over to a photobook.
As well as being a creative activity in themselves, photobooks can be beneficial in the longer term, as they are reminders to the person with dementia of who people are and their relationship to them.
If you want to engage in longer-term activities you can make short videos using digital cameras or digital video recorders like flipcams. The technicalities of filmmaking may not appeal to many people with dementia, but being in the film, helping with research or providing a voice-over are all creative ways of engaging with the process.
Hints and tips for photography and film-making
- To take pictures or make films, you need to make sure you have the consent of everyone who appears in them, as well as family and carers.
- Don’t be over-ambitious with films – aim for about five minutes running time. The time limit for YouTube is 10 minutes.
- Try finding a gifted volunteer or work with a friendly professional film-maker. The Media Trust runs a scheme matching volunteer film-makers (and other types of media professionals) with charities.