Using ICT in activities for people with dementia

Introducing ICTs to people with dementia

Start with 'Let's play a game/find some music' not 'Let's use the computer'. It is about what you are trying to achieve, not the fact you are using ICTs to achieve it.

Getting started

Plan ahead

Make sure that you have the equipment you need for a particular activity. If you need internet access check that you have it in the rooms where you will be working. Make sure the space is right for the kind of equipment you want to use and the activities you plan to do. Do some research ahead of time – for example, have a list of useful websites, or apps, or images, already collected together. If you are using equipment with batteries, make sure they are charged!

Focus on the activity not the technology

Start with ‘Let’s play a game/find some music’ not ‘Let’s use the computer’. It is about what you are trying to achieve, not the fact you are using ICTs to achieve it. Talking to people about their hobbies and interests is often a good way to start – then the ICT is just a tool you use as part of the conversation.

ICT in action: Google searches are 100 per cent personalised

We start from the point of view ‘This is your day, what would you like to do?’. For example, one of the people I work with is very fond of dogs, so I googled and found the website of a Labrador breeder in the town near where she lives. It’s just part of interacting with the person. Forget about the ICT itself, it’s just a great tool for starting up conversations, because you have the world at your fingertips.

Start with a simple activity

Decide beforehand on a straightforward activity to get people involved, for example:

If you know someone already understands ICTs, change your plans accordingly.

ICT in action: Choosing, finding and playing favourite music tracks

We ask people at our centre what their favourite music is. So they are involved in the choosing and selecting part of the process. Then we might find it on the web, or ask relatives to bring in CDs. Then we make a compilation and set it to shuffle on the MP3 player. It means that when music is playing it is always someone’s favourite. It’s a small thing, but it’s the comfort factor, the familiarity of hearing music you remember.

Start with ‘non-computer-y’ technology

Desktop computers may have associations with work or bureaucracy for many people. Consider starting with something more everyday such as a digital camera. Tablets such as iPads can also be useful, as many people do not think of them as ‘computers’.

ICT in action: Digital photography for everyday events

We use digital photography a lot. It’s so immediate and so cheap. We take pictures of people attending the centre and then we have them on a small display screen in the room. They change every few seconds, and people are fascinated by them. When we are having an event in the garden or something we take pictures and put them on the display screen; people will say ‘Oh look there’s me’. And we can do print-outs, so carers can have copies.

Talk out loud about what you are doing as a running commentary keeps people involved. Remember that things that seem obvious to you may not be to people who are unfamiliar with technology.

Think about the person

Do Don't

Focus on the person’s abilities, not their impairments.

Don’t make prior assumptions about what someone can or can’t do.

Remember engagement can be at any level, from sensory stimulation from a video, game or piece of music, to writing emails.

Don’t take over – wherever possible, the person with dementia should lead the activity with the carer’s support. This can be a fine line in ICT use, but the key is to match the activity with the person’s capacity. Even if people cannot engage directly with the technology, you can still offer them choices about what you are doing and how.

Pay attention to each individual’s preferences and capabilities, – for example, some people may be able to touch type, and others will never have used a keyboard. Both past experience and current capacities will affect the person’s level of engagement.

Don’t force the issue if the person is not interested. Engagement will vary from person to person, from day to day and at different times of day – be led by the person.

Talk out loud about what you are doing as a running commentary keeps people involved. Remember that things that seem obvious to you may not be to people who are unfamiliar with technology.

Don’t go on too long – it is always good to break activities into small steps. As a rule you should limit activities to 20 minutes or less unless you have a good reason to carry on.

Make sure carers and family are on board as it is important that those close to the person with dementia are supportive – particularly if the ICTs are going to be used to communicate with others.

Don’t set people up to fail. Don’t suggest complicated tasks if people do not have the capacity to engage with them.

Think about your environment and the equipment

Do Don't
Pay attention to health and safety issues – secure any trailing cables, make sure people have comfortable sitting positions, use a cushion with tablet computers as they can be heavy to hold or have in your lap and take lots of breaks from screens.

Don’t use jargon or inconsistent language. Even some of the main ICT terms and ideas can be confusing when they are unfamiliar. Choose an everyday term wherever possible, and stick to using it all the time. Some examples might include:

  • cursor: use ‘pointer’
  • return key: use ‘enter’
  • monitor or VDU: use ‘screen’
  • click: some people understand ‘press’ or ‘tap’ better
  • menu: some people understand ‘list’ better.
Minimise visual clutter on screens – for example avoid lots of icons on the computer home screen.  
Make sure lighting is good – in particular avoid screen glare, which affects visibility and legibility.  
Make the text on the screen clear – make sure it is large enough to read and the colour contrast is strong.  
You can print ‘screenshots’ (an image of the screen as you see it) so people have a visual reminder of what the screen should look like at any given point.  
If you are using a keyboard you might want to put sticky labels on the ‘space’ bar and the ‘return’ key, to remind people what they are for. You could also consider covering up any parts of the keyboard you don’t need.