Best Practice Guidance
Human Interaction with Technology in Dementia

Recommendations

Evaluating the effectiveness of specific contemporary technology

The rapid growth of the technological landscape and related new services have the potential to improve the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of health and social services and facilitate social participation and engagement in activities. But which technology is effective and how is this evaluated best?
This section provides recommendations to evaluate the effectiveness of technology in daily life, meaningful activities and healthcare services as well as of technologies aimed to promote the Social Health of people with dementia. Examples of useful technologies in some of these areas are provided.

Social Health Domain 3: Technology to promote social participation

Standardised instruments for measuring social interactions and communication in dementia caregiving must be developed to ensure rigorous research into the effect of technology solutions that aim to support this

Guidance

The academic community should dedicate more resources to develop and evaluate technology-driven solutions that support dyadic communication and foster social interactions in dementia caregiving dyads. Rigorous investigation is needed using standard, comparable measurements to demonstrate the effects of these technological solutions.

Explanation and examples

A systematic literature search was conducted to comprehensively describe technology-driven interventions to prompt communication and facilitate positive social interactions between people with dementia and their conversation partners. Titles and abstracts from three databases PubMed, CINAHL and PsycINFO, were independently screened by two researchers. Quality of the included studies was assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Of the 18 papers included in the review, the technology most commonly used to facilitate social interaction were tablet-computers (n=7), social robots (n=5), and personal computers (n=4). Technology-driven devices not fitting into the three other categories were labelled as ‘other’ (n = 2). Results showed that the social technology helped: i) breaking the ice by initiating dialogue and serving as a conversational platform; ii) increase interaction frequency and duration by encouraging more involvement between the conversation partners; iii) better understand the person with dementia through reminiscence activities; and iv) reduce pressure on the conversation partner by making the communication more reciprocal. Although there is seemingly great potential in technology to facilitate social interaction and communication in dementia caregiving, the findings show that research in this area is still in an explorative phase. The diversity in study methodologies and few standardised instruments used to measure these outcomes point to a need for further research into development and validation of new assessment tools for positive outcomes in social health.

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Measure different dimensions of social participation when evaluating the effect of social technologies

Guidance

Make clear how you define the outcome of social participation and assess different dimensions of this multidimensional concept when evaluating the effects of social technology on social participation.

Explanation and examples

A systematic review was conducted to gain insight into the effects of technological interventions on the social participation of older adults. A total of 36 studies was included in a narrative synthesis. A major finding was the inconsistent use of terms and concepts related to social participation among studies. Future studies should make the applied definition of social participation explicit to allow for comparison of research results.

Furthermore, a majority of the included studies measured one specific dimension of social participation, i.e: social connections (e.g. by measuring loneliness or social isolation). However, social participation is a multidimensional concept. It is not only about social connections, but also about being engaged in meaningful activities that provide social interaction with others in the community (Levasseur et al., 2010). So far, there is no outcome measure that covers all dimensions of social participation. Therefore, it is recommended to combine quantitative outcome measures with qualitative data collection methods when assessing the effect(s) of technology on social participation. In the future, research should focus on developing and validating an outcome measure that covers different dimensions of social participation.

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More studies required to investigate the impacts of low-cost pet robots in dementia care

Guidance

Low-cost pet robots are a promising technology to improve the psychosocial health of people living with dementia. More high quality studies with sufficiently large sample sizes should be conducted to properly investigate their impacts.

Explanation and examples

Pet robots are a technology-based substitute to animal assisted therapy. However, the high costs of many pet robots can hinder the use of pet robots in dementia care. A scoping review was conducted to understand the impact of using lower-cost (more affordable) pet robots. Synthesised findings from nine studies suggested that low-cost pet robots improved the communication, social interactions and other health domains of older adults and people living with dementia. However, most studies had a small sample size and were of varying quality. Moving forward, more rigorous studies are necessary to investigate their impacts.

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