Monday, 12 September 2016

In-Touch: exploring apps for people living with dementia around the world

In-Touch is a project looking at iPad apps for people living with dementia to enjoy fun and meaningful activities.
Initially funded by the Netherlands Science Programme, the In-Touch project has gone through several phases with a number of international partners.
Building on previous work which demonstrated that people with dementia are able to learn to use touchscreens to play digital games, the launch of iPads inspired the In-Touch project to see if these small touchscreen devices could also be used by people who have dementia.
In Phase 1, partners at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, and three large Dutch care organisations - Humanitas, Aafje, and Laurens, tried out 10 existing iPad apps with people living with dementia in day centres and care homes. This demonstrated that people with dementia, including many who were not previous computer users, could learn to use iPads.

Phase 2 started in Sheffield with two apps that represented a familiar game – card game Solitaire – and an unfamiliar ‘tile-matching’ type game, Bubble Explode. Thirty people attending day care or living in care homes played one or other on three separate occasions and we filmed how they interacted with the iPad. From this study we learnt that familiarity is not the most helpful feature for being able to play a game as people completed Bubble Explode more easily than Solitaire. However, both groups enjoyed playing the games, even if they could not complete them.

 Also in Phase 2, funded by the Ontario Shores Foundation, 30 people in Ontario, Canada, have been trying out Bubble Explode and a jigsaw puzzle app to discover what makes games enjoyable and engaging for people who have dementia. Videos from Sheffield and Toronto are being used to identify the features that make touchscreen apps easy to learn and play.

In Phase 3, new ‘dementia-friendly’ versions of Solitaire and Bubble Explode are being tested to examine the effect of increasing the ‘accessibility’ features of the apps. The makers of the two apps implemented these accessibility changes and we are hoping to use the evidence to help make more dementia-friendly apps.

The international element of the project is critical for several reasons. First is to highlight how much of the experience of living with dementia and the challenges people face are universal. It is also important to demonstrate that the findings apply across countries, cultures and languages so that they can be more readily accepted. The partners in the In-Touch study span a wide range of disciplines and experience and have worked together to produce something of growing relevance across the world.
From this initial project several strands have grown. First is AcTo Dementia, a CATCH PhD project which is evaluating apps in the iTunes store for suitability for people living with dementia. Second is Let’s Connect, a project funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to the Oshawa Seniors Centre to develop a training package for people with dementia to use tablets at home. Third is the development of a personal activity package for people living in care homes funded by the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration and Aging.

In CATCH, we’re committed to the UK remaining a welcoming home of global scholarship and we will continue to ensure our research knows no geographical boundaries.

To find out more about the #WeAreInternational campaign and to show your support, visit

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