Using ICT in activities for people with dementia
ICTs for keeping in touch
There are two main ways you can use the internet to support communication for people with dementia:
- internet phone services.
ICT in action: Using the internet to call friends and family
Our residents were wary of technology. If you don’t make a big deal out of it though, people get used to it. We had one resident who was scared of the computer when we first brought it out, and would not use it. But we introduced it slowly, and within a couple of weeks she was using Skype on her own.
Why use email with people with dementia?
There are specific advantages to helping people with dementia use email:
- Copies of all emails are automatically stored so that each can be re-read every time an email is sent or received, which can help with recall.
- Emails can be drafted and then easily amended. They don’t have to be sent immediately.
- Most email systems have an address book function, so that people do not need to remember addresses.
- Photographs are easily sent as attachments or as links to online picture galleries.
- Emails can be sent anywhere in the world at no cost.
Basic kit for emailing
- A desktop computer, laptop or tablet
- Access to the internet
- Web-based email such as Yahoo or Hotmail
Hints and tips for using email
- Make sure the friends or family the person wants to communicate with are willing and able to reply and that you have correct email addresses. Receiving no reply to emails can upset people.
- If you need to assist people with setting up or sending emails, make it clear to them that this means their emails are not completely confidential.
- Each individual should have their own email address so that correspondence can be kept private.
- It is easier to administrate emails for several people using a web-based service such as Yahoo than using an email programme like Outlook.
- You need a system for keeping email usernames and passwords safe and private.
- Check email addresses regularly to remove spam (unwanted mail such as adverts) before it reaches the person.
- Digital Unite has a useful guide to setting up emails.
- Don’t forget you can also use ICTs to create printed materials for keeping in touch, such as letters or cards.
Why use internet phone services with people with dementia?
There are a number of services that allow people to talk to each other over the internet. These are called voice over internet protocol, usually shortened to VOIP. The best known is Skype, but there are others such as Googletalk. The software is free and if the people you are calling also have the software, the call is free, anywhere in the world.
Further information: costs savings with internet phone calls
You can also call ordinary phones (including mobiles) more cheaply with VOIP than if you were using conventional phone services. For more information on how to use VOIP cost-effectively, visit the Money Saving Expert website.
Apart from cost, the main advantage to helping people with dementia use internet phone services is that you can use a webcam, so that you can see the other person as well as hear their voice. This can be great for communication with friends or family who are geographically far away. People who use sign language can communicate at a distance on video calls, often for the first time. However, be aware that for some people with dementia, video calls can be confusing or even disturbing, as they look like TV images and people do not expect to interact with the TV.
Basic kit for internet phone calls
- A laptop, tablet or desktop computer
- Access to the internet
- VOIP software, such as Skype or Googletalk
- The computer may have an inbuilt microphone and speakers. If not, you may need to get a headphone and microphone to plug in to the computer. These are not too expensive and they are more private
- If you want to do video calls, you need a webcam. These are not too expensive either and they can be attached to desktop computers. Many laptops and tablets have them built in
- You can also use some mobile phones (smart phones) to make VOIP calls, though many find that the small screens is not ideal
Hints and tips for internet phone calls
- VOIP services can be fiddly to set up. Get everything ready to go before the person is ready to call and use the test functions in the software to check it all works. You need to keep the time between the person wishing to make a call and actually calling as short as possible.
- You have to coordinate with the other parties to make sure they are online at the agreed time.
- If you don’t have a good internet connection, the quality of the call can be bad, particularly on video calls.
- People with hearing problems may find it harder to hear web-based calls than phone calls.
- Make sure you get the privacy settings right – on Skype for example, the default setting means other Skype users know when you are online, meaning you might get unwanted calls.
- Digital Unite has a useful beginners’ guide to using Skype.
Further information: Social media
Social media such as Facebook offer a different approach to keeping in touch online. For many people with dementia, social media interfaces may be too complex. You also need to be mindful about privacy and safety issues when using these services, as they are designed to be very public. But if you are working with people who do want to use social media, Digital Unite has useful introductory guides to social networking and to internet privacy and security.