Using playful objects for people with advanced dementia

Featured article - 30 August 2018
By Professor Cathy Treadaway, Cardiff School of Art and Design

Head-shot of the author, Professor Cathy Treadaway, Cardiff School of Art and Design

A hug: one size fits all, they’re easy to exchange and you can always return them….

Quote on Twitter

I saw this quote a few months back and it made me smile. Sometimes really simple things can improve our mood and quality of life - like giving or receiving a simple hug or exchanging a smile.

People living with dementia - especially those living with the later stages - often become disconnected and socially isolated as the disease affects their ability to communicate. Their quality of life diminishes as they withdraw into a different world. Finding ways to reconnect with them can be a challenge.

LAUGH research

Over the last three years the LAUGH research project has been developing playful objects to help sustain connections and enhance relationships with people living with advanced dementia. With the help of dementia experts and those living with the disease, the LAUGH design team have developed a range of hand-held interactive playful objects. One of these is HUG, a very simple soft textile wearable object, reminiscent of a baby or small child, containing embedded electronics that simulate a heartbeat and play a person’s favourite music. HUG gave great pleasure to the lady it was designed for in the final year of her life and resulted in improved social interaction and health benefits that her carers described as being ‘like a miracle’. Over the next two years the LAUGH research team will be collaborating with the NHS and a social care provider to evaluate the health and psychological benefits of HUG with a larger group of people living with dementia and Post Stroke Cognitive Impairment.

Compassionate Design

The LAUGH team is guided by Compassionate Design, an approach that places loving kindness for the person living with dementia at its heart. It prioritises aspects of design that are sensory, highly personalised and forge connections with others.

We all benefit from loving connections, they do us good – we all need a hug!

Cathy Treadaway PhD is Professor of Creative Practice at Cardiff Metropolitan University and Principal Investigator on the LAUGH design for dementia project.

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