Best Practice Guidance
Human Interaction with Technology in Dementia

themes: Ecological validity

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.
Technology in everyday life

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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Social Health Domain 2: Manage ones own life and promote independence

Technologies designed to improve social health in people with dementia should be evaluated in high quality studies to effectively support decision-making


More high quality, ecologically valid, controlled studies must be planned, funded and executed in order to properly evaluate the effectiveness of technologies designed to be used by people with dementia and to improve social participation and self-management.

Explanation and examples

A systematic review found that in the whole world only nine controlled evaluation studies with technologies designed for people with dementia have been carried out in ecologically valid settings, to assess effectiveness in improving social participation and self-management. Controlled studies are the most effective way of conducting unbiased evaluations, from which causal inference can be drawn. Policy-makers should be demanding this level of evidence as a condition of investment in such technologies. So far, studies have been conducted with VR-based technologies, other wearable technologies, and software applications. However, only a single study was found to be of good quality. Other technologies for people with dementia have not yet been the subject of a single ecologically-valid, controlled study with these outcomes (this includes, for example, social robots). In order to conduct high quality studies, researchers must ensure that studies are adequately statistically powered based on a sufficiently large sample; include active technology-based control interventions, so that is controlled for attention; and conduct and report intention-to-treat analyses, taking into account data of all participant to the study, including dropouts, and not only those who completed the intervention. Funding bodies must recognize the need to fund such studies accordingly. Clinicians, healthcare providers, policymakers and users of technology should expect and demand that such high-quality evidence is available to support decision-making.

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Social Health Domain 3: Technology to promote social participation