“Dementia is so often equated with decline and a ‘doom and gloom’ perspective, our approach challenges that, as living with dementia can still be a life full of fun,” says Anthea Innes, Director of the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI).
Ways in which popular technologies can be used to enable people with dementia to have fun as well as unlock memories and enhance communication with relatives and carers will be showcased during the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.
“One of our ideas at BUDI was to try out different ‘fun’ technologies like the iPad, the Wii, the Nintendo DS or Xbox in groups for people with dementia but we had no idea they would prove so popular,” says Innes. “But why wouldn’t they really? Most people like to learn new things, have a sense of purpose and to have fun doing so.”
“Anybody with dementia can be engaged to some extent with iPad and gaming technologies such as the Wii, Xbox or Nintendo,” says Ben Hicks, researcher at BUDI. “Improved social interaction and communication are just some of our positive observations from introducing these technologies to people with dementia.”
Researchers have found Google Earth for iPad to be really popular among people with dementia in terms of helping them remember earlier times in their lives – such as where they were born, favourite holiday destinations and familiar landmarks. Having images and photos available at the touch of a screen is a tremendous conversation boost, Hicks points out. “As just one example, an older man was playing a Nintendo DS game involving looking after a pet dog which reminded him that he used to keep German Shepherds. We switched to an iPad and brought up videos of German Shepherds similar to those he had owned is his youth. Then, using Google Earth we were able to refresh his memories with views of places he knew from his childhood – giving him even more to talk about.”
Exploring the uses of computer game technology is just one of several creative projects currently led by the Dementia Institute which aim to improve the experience of living with dementia. At the Festival of Social Science event, the general public will be able to try out some of the things that researchers from the Institute will demonstrate. These include innovative ways to engage those with dementia in fun activities, as well as highlighting new research on supporting people to live independently and safely.
Giving people with dementia the opportunity to experience the smells and sounds of the sea by way of a small-scale maritime archaeological dig is just one of the activities on offer. Designed jointly by Bournemouth University Dementia Institute and School of Applied Sciences, the ‘Tales of the Sea’ project delivers a stimulating and highly unusual maritime archaeological experience specifically for people with dementia.
In ‘Tales of the Sea’, researchers went to five different community locations with a three session activity designed to include people with dementia – by way of interactive activities – through the process of a marine dig. “We brought smells of the sea such as sea water and tar to the community locations as well as sights and sounds of the sea ranging from photographs to a diving suit,” says researcher Clare Cutler. “Participants could dig with their hands in fish tanks filled with sand for artefacts such as coins and tiles as well as learning how to ‘bag’ these finds exactly as archaeologists would do and even experiment in putting broken pieces back together.”
In this project, the unusual activities proved hugely successful in sparking engagement, interest and conversation among participants. “For some people it brought back memories of being part of a sea-faring family, for others just the process of digging sparked memories of a previous interest in gardening and some said how touching the sand reminded them of childhood seaside holidays,” Cutler explains.
“Many people assume that people can’t do certain things because they have dementia, but these and other Dementia Institute projects show just how much is possible and how great the benefits in terms of stimulation, engagement and enjoyment can be.”
Dementia doesn’t need to take away the fun from life, humour is a key aspect of supporting a person with dementia as well as a coping strategy used by those with dementia, Innes insists. “It is this sense of fun that the researchers at BUDI seek to take forward which in turn makes our research fun.”