Best Practice Guidance
Human Interaction with Technology in Dementia

themes: Carers

Practical, cognitive & social factors to improve usability of technology for people with dementia

Technologies are increasingly vital in today’s activities in homes and communities. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to the consequences of the increasing complexity and reliance on them, for example, at home, in shops, traffic situations, meaningful activities and health care services. The users’ ability to manage products and services has been largely neglected or taken for granted. People with dementia often do not use the available technology because it does not match their needs and capacities. This section provides recommendations to improve the usability of technology used in daily life, for meaningful activities, in healthcare and in the context of promoting the Social Health of people with dementia.
Technology in everyday life

Consider different needs


During the development or use of technological devices, the individual needs of the person with cognitive impairments (e.g. dementia or MCI) and carer should be considered. This includes not only everyday technology, but also surveillance technology (ST) and technology used during cognitive training sessions. Increased awareness and offered assistance is recommended.

Explanation and Examples

People with dementia tend to face more and other difficulties than people with MCI when using relevant everyday technologies such as cash machines, calling or texting with a cell phone or using a DVD player, and thus need more assistance in technology use. This may also be the case with ST and technology used for cognitive training.

For example, ST are often presented as a neutral technology, which enables carers to minimise risk. However, the views of users have not been sought by ST developers, which limits the usefulness of ST and suggests the need for the empowerment of user groups. Therefore, a study of audience reception was undertaken through focus groups, online discussions (Netherlands) and PPI (UK). Hereby people with dementia could speak for themselves, which has allowed their needs to be compared with carers. There was no clear recognition that such needs differed between people with dementia and carers, and it has not previously been recognized that this leads to a mismatch between a user’s situation and the product design and how this plays out in the acceptance and use of ST. Although, carers and people with dementia have not yet reached an agreement on the privacy debate and on how the media should portray dementia, it is clear that carers often tamper with ST to make up for a lack in current designs. The results suggest that ST are being resold or rebranded by providers to use for dementia, whilst users may experience physical and cognitive barriers to using such technologies for safety reasons.

Regarding technology for cognitive training: As older people have little experience with technological devices, and so may experience problems, professionals involved in cognitive training should monitor training sessions from the outset. The professional must observe and ensure the ability of the older person to understand the instructions given through the technological device, so that the person can really benefit from the cognitive training by computer. For example, in sessions with GRADIOR, a cognitive rehabilitation program, there is always a professional in charge who helps older people to understand the exercises they may experience difficulty with.

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Technology for meaningful activities

Everyday fluctuations


Consider using smartphone-based experience sampling apps to measure everyday fluctuations of variables such as mood, behaviors, or cognition in people with mild cognitive impairments or carers of people with dementia to better understand variations in daily experiences.

Explanation and examples

The ‘Partner in Sight’ intervention for carers of people with dementia, the ‘Monitor-Mi’ study (feasibility of the experience sampling method (ESM) in people with MCI), and the development of two cognitive tasks (mDSST; mVSWMT), all included the experience sampling method (ESM). These studies are first steps towards a better understanding of and support for people with cognitive impairments, such as MCI or dementia, and their carers in everyday life.

The results indicate positive effects on carers’ well-being, feasibility of using the ESM in people with MCI, and internal validity when assessing momentary cognition in healthy older individuals. The experience sampling method has a high ecological validity with a reduced memory bias, allows to see fluctuations, and uncovers a complex picture of affect, behaviour, and other variables in everyday life. It can be used to increase awareness of own daily patterns and motivate behavioural changes towards more meaningful activities.

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Social Health Domain 3: Technology to promote social participation

Consider the use of digital generic photos when designing psychosocial interventions that aim to improve social interaction, mood, and quality of life


People designing psychosocial interventions for people with dementia should be aware that viewing generic, rather than personal photographs, can also be a meaningful activity for the person with dementia. Moreover, viewing these photos digitally was found to be either similar to or better than viewing conventional printed photos.

Explanation and Examples

There is evidence that using generic photos, versus personal family photos, in psychosocial interventions for people living with dementia can be more effective in promoting social interaction and eliciting stories with emotional and personal significance. Generic photos may feel less threatening compared to using personal photos in conversation with the person with dementia, the conversation that arises becomes more flexible and less demanding of remembering specific people or events. This can lead to better social interaction, mood, and eventually, better quality of life for the person with dementia.

Generic photographs can be more accessible and easier to acquire, lessening the time needed to, for example, ask for and collect family photographs from relatives (if these are still available). It has the potential to be cost-effective as well (compared to other art-based activities like museum visits), and has the potential to transcend societal or cultural differences.

These benefits may be even more pronounced, when generic photos are used in a digitalized format, as previous research showed that viewing digitalized photos is similar to or better (due to the pleasurable experience of using virtual reality technology; Tominari et al., 2021; Xu & Wang et al., 2020) than viewing conventional printed photos.

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