Introducing technology (to support people with dementia)
Making sure everything is ready before you start using technology will mean the session runs smoothly – the person with dementia is not distracted by the unfamiliar.
On this page:
The right stuff
Whether it’s a desktop computer, tablet, mobile phone or laptop, make sure that you have the equipment you need for a particular activity. The ‘Dementia and digital’ report from the Good Things Foundation (formerly Tinder Foundation) said that tablets are the most effective devices to support digital skills. It’s helpful to use the technology that the person is most familiar with.
The right connections
Some activities need an internet connection and others don’t. It is important to have a reliable broadband connection as it’s frustrating if the connection is slow or keeps breaking up. You can get a broadband connection through cables or wireless. Wireless is more flexible but does not always work well in some larger or older buildings. You can also use a ‘dongle’ which connects an individual computer to the internet as and when you need it. These kinds of solutions don’t work so well in areas where mobile phone signals are weak however, and they are usually too slow for downloading videos or films.
If you are using equipment powered by batteries, make sure these are fully charged. Audio speakers might be necessary for those with hearing loss as the volumes on tablets in particular can be quite low.
Take a person-centred approach
- Do focus on the person’s abilities, not their impairments.
- Do remember engagement can be at any level, from sensory stimulation from a video, game or piece of music, to writing emails.
- Do 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. A person with arthritis may not be able to use a mouse. Past experience and current capacities will affect the person’s level of engagement.
- Do 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.
- Do make sure carers and family are on board particularly if the technology is going to be used to communicate with others.
- Don't make prior assumptions about what someone can or can’t do.
- 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 technology but the key is to match the activity with the person’s capacity. You might want to initially introduce an iPad by saying ‘Have you seen this?’ Even if people cannot engage directly with the technology, you can still offer them choices about what you are doing and how.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don't set people up to fail. Don’t suggest complicated tasks if people do not have the capacity to engage with them.
Physical needs, environment and language
- Do 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. Take lots of breaks from screens.
- Do minimise visual clutter on screens, for example, lots of icons on the home screen.
- Do make sure lighting is good. In particular, avoid screen glare which affects visibility and legibility. Screen reflection can make viewing difficult.
- Do make the text on the screen large enough to read with strong colour contrast.
- Do 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.
- Do consider, if you are using a keyboard, putting sticky labels on the ‘space’ bar and the ‘return’ key to remind people what they are for. Do consider covering up any parts of the keyboard you don’t need.
- Don't use jargon or inconsistent language. Even some of the main technology terms and ideas can be confusing when they are unfamiliar. Choose an everyday term wherever possible, and stick to using it all the time. Examples include:
- cursor – use ‘pointer’
- return key – use ‘enter’
- monitor or VDU – use ‘screen’
- click – some may understand ‘press’ or ‘tap’
- menu – some understand ‘list’
Focus on the activity, not the technology
It might be helpful to start a session along the lines of ‘Let’s play a game/find some music’ rather than ‘let’s use the computer’. It is about what you are trying to achieve, not the fact you are using technology to achieve it. Talking to people about their hobbies and interests is often a good way to start; technology is then a tool that helps that process.
Some staff may not feel they have the right skills to support others to learn or use different types of technology. However, there may be people already in the organisation who have IT skills they are happy to share. There are also free online tutorials on YouTube. Families and visitors may have IT skills and kit that they are willing to share.
Using technology will not suit everyone. Not all staff will feel comfortable and people with dementia may be resistant. It’s important that this is not seen as a failure. Technology is only one way of engaging people and someone’s interest may fluctuate. Be patient. As with all person-centred care, the wishes and preferences of the individual are paramount.
Decide beforehand on a simple activity that involves people, for example, playing a game such as solitaire (for an individual) or bingo (for a group) or finding some music on the web. Using a desktop computer may have associations with work or bureaucracy for some people. Consider starting with something that looks more commonplace such as a digital camera. Tablets such as iPads can be useful, as many people do not think of them as ‘computers’.
Case study: Interacting with the person
One member of staff said: ‘We start from the point of view: ‘This is your day, what would you like to do?’ 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 technology, it’s just a great tool for starting up conversations, because you have the world at your fingertips.’
General technology skills
- Digital Unite A company that specialises in accessible technology and runs programmes like Silver Surfers day, and offers a range of free guides on topics such as email, Skype, internet security, social media.
- YouTube A good source of video tutorials on many aspects of Technology, often aimed at the non-expert.
- Learnmyway Free courses on using a computer, browsing the web, sending an email and finding work online.
Support and advice on equipment and software
- PC Advisor, a commercial website, companion to the high street magazine of the same name, offering free reviews and technical advice across a range of issues.
- IT4Communities, a charity that helps other charities and community groups find volunteers to help with their IT needs.
- Charity Technology Exchange (CTX) matches requests for IT equipment from charities with donations from IT suppliers.
- Media Trust runs a scheme matching media professionals such as film-makers and photographers with charities wanting help with projects and services.
- Get Safe Online provides practical advice on how to protect yourself, your computers and mobile devices and your business against fraud, identity theft, viruses and many other problems encountered online.
Disclaimer: The products mentioned are to provide ideas for consideration only, none are endorsed by SCIE.