Living with dementia magazine April 2014

People with dementia using iPads as creative boards

As dementia progresses, technology may enable people to continue to express themselves and interact with others. Danny Ratnaike learns about a project exploring how tablet computers can help.


A project called iPad engAGE, founded by Claire Ford, is using tablet computers to engage and stimulate people with dementia and others in various care settings.

Lesley Rose, one of the project artists, says that tablets such as the iPad are easy to use for people who aren't familiar with computers.

'There is no mouse or keyboard to negotiate – everything is right there on the screen.'

Fantastic tool

Claire's grandparents' and great-grandparents' involvement had a big impact on her growing up. She volunteered for Alzheimer's Society when she was at school and says,

'Older people have always been an essential part of my life.'

iPad engAGE works with people with dementia using tablet computers

She explored creative activities for people with dementia through a Churchill Travelling Fellowship to the US in 2011, a trip Claire calls a 'massive turning point'. While this focused on traditional art forms, she also found technology being used to help people make playlists of their favourite music.

'I had got my own iPad and thought it could be a fantastic tool. You can play music and use a variety of apps that are multisensory and offer visual stimulation – great for people with dementia.'

Engaging activities

Tablets – mobile computers with touchscreens – have become increasingly popular. A huge range of applications (apps) can be used to do anything from drawing and playing games to taking photos and having a video phone conversation.

iPad engAGE, funded by Arts Council England and Crowdfunder UK, has been providing sessions in four care settings for older people in the north-east of England run by the national charity Abbeyfield.

Jim Thompson, Chair of Abbeyfield Extra Care in Alnwick, Northumberland, says,

'They use the iPad to write poetry, paint pictures – all sorts of things. The way it's engaging residents who wouldn't usually get involved in activities is brilliant.'

Creative board

Steph Purvis is Activities Co-ordinator at Abbeyfield Extra Care and says they learned early on not to focus on the technology but on how people can use it.

'Using words like "iPad" or "internet" can be a barrier so we introduce it as a "creative board".'

By giving people time to get to know the project artists and become used to the iPad, even residents who were reluctant to leave their rooms have been encouraged to get involved after experiencing what they could do.

Steph says,

'We had sessions with them in their room, just sat and chatted and introduced the creative board to them. Slowly one or two of them came to sit in the conservatory and one joined in with a group activity.'

Trying out apps

Simple apps include one that makes the screen look like a fishpond which responds when you touch the 'water', while others simulate activities as varied as pottery spinning, glassblowing, embroidery, darts and golf.

Claire Ford founded iPad engAGE

Alice Wild, Day Centre Manager for Abbeyfield Ilkley in West Yorkshire, emphasises the importance of taking time to try out different apps and not making assumptions about what someone will like.

'The more we know about the person the better, and we get families involved to make sure we understand people's life history. However what people were interested in before isn't necessarily what they're interested in today.'

After expecting one man, known to be a keen gardener, to like gardening-related apps, Alice says,

'It hit a wrong note – he said "this is not very interesting".'

Yet trying other ideas paid off and he's now using the iPad to record a CD of his own singing, with backing tracks that he has produced using drum and guitar apps.

Looking at what he'd achieved at the end of one of the sessions, Alice says he commented,

'That's not bad for someone who's got dementia!'

Having a go

Claire says some people have needed reassurance at first that it really is simply for fun and that they're not being tested in some way. However loss of inhibition as dementia progresses can mean that people feel freer to 'just have a go'.

Louise Rea, another artist on the project, says,

'There are simple apps like Book Creator that you can use to make a book using pictures and stories. You can record clips then and there using the iPad's camera and add them to it.'

One man has been able to keep more in touch with family overseas using Skype, while others access resources through straightforward searches. Louise says,

'Fancy some Thomas Hardy? You can easily download and read it. Want to watch Laurel and Hardy? Just tap it into YouTube.'

Find out more about iPad engAGE.

See our factsheet Staying involved and active. or call 0300 303 5933 to order.

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