Best Practice Guidance
Human Interaction with Technology in Dementia

themes: Cultural context

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

Take a multi-perspective approach when procuring public space technologies to improve usability internationally


When selecting technologies for use in public spaces, procurers should involve occupational therapists and designers with expertise in dementia, and people living with dementia.  Public space technologies should:

  1. have the most cognitively enabling and inclusive design features (i.e. minimal steps and memory demands),
  2. be sited in the most supportive physical location (i.e. secure vestibule, busy thoroughfare) and
  3. identify and account for wider sociocultural preferences (i.e. continued face-to-face services).

Explanation and Examples

Life outside home in most countries increasingly demands the use of everyday technologies (ETs i.e. transport ticket and parking machines, ATMs, airline self-check in machines, fuel pumps). However, ETs can present challenges, particularly for people with dementia, and differences in design and location may mean some ETs are easier to use than others.

To investigate variation in the challenge of ETs; the Everyday Technology Use Questionnaire was administered with 315 people with and without dementia (73 in Sweden, 114 in the USA, 128 in England) in a cross-sectional, quantitative study. Modern statistical analysis found 5/16 public space ETs differed in challenge level between countries (specifically: ATM, airline self-check-in, bag drop, automatic ticket gates, fuel pump).

These differences result from variation in design features or siting of technologies. However, they may also be due to differing habits between users in different countries (i.e. necessity and frequency of use, preference for particular modes of transport, concerns about security, embarrassment) or varying progress towards technologised rather than face-to-face services (i.e. towards cashlessness).

Taking account of inter-country differences could lead to selecting the most useable technologies and services. This could improve inclusiveness of public space internationally for older adults with and without dementia.

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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.

Ecological validity contributes to the effectiveness of a technology


The ecological validity and cultural context in which the technology will be implemented should be taken into account, to ensure it is applicable to the ‘real life situation’ of the person with dementia

Explanation and example

When cognitive rehabilitation is applied to people with dementia, it is necessary to consider the ecological validity of each tool or instrument used to perform cognitive rehabilitation, training or stimulation. Ecological validity is determined by the ability of those tools, instruments or techniques used for cognitive training to be transferred to the patient’s daily life. Therefore, the patient may feel that using these techniques or tools in their daily lives can bring them benefits and influence their daily life, “beyond the rehabilitation session”. For example: Gradior includes images of real objects which are well-known to the users. These objects are close to those of real life, among others: calculation exercises associated with real adult life (shopping at a supermarket), presents quizzes of daily activities (prepare a specific recipe). New technologies for rehabilitation or cognitive training should consider ecological validity as their main objective otherwise it may not be appropriate for the person with dementia who uses it.

The context is a factor that must be considered in the design of new technologies, that is, it is not enough to delimit the population and its characteristics. For example: a technology may be applied in an urban context but not necessarily in a rural one, due to the difficulties that this context may have in terms of the existence and scope of communication systems (internet connection, presence of devices, etc.).

Consequently, Gradior was developed free of contents. This means that it is easy to change the contents of the software and objects interacting with the person with dementia. In this way, it can be fitted to different environments in an easy way. It is necessary that the exercises and objects have significance to the users.

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