Technology enhances the psychosocial well-being of people with dementia

LiveNature installation. Credit: Yuan Feng

Ph.D. Yuan Feng’s research focuses on promoting the well-being of a vulnerable population in our society – people with dementia – using interactive technology. Collaborating with Vitalis Berckelhof, a Dutch residential care for the elderly with and without dementia located in Eindhoven, Feng gave the clients living there a way to relive the past and get closer to the outdoors through simulated sensory experiences with rich interaction opportunities.

Technology is essential to enable care delivery and support independent living for people with dementia. However, with most innovative solutions focusing on safety issues and carer wellbeing, there is a huge gap where technology-enabled solutions are needed to directly engage people with dementia, particularly those in more advanced stages of dementia.

In care institutions like Vitalis Berckelhof, people are looking for new ways to promote the psychosocial well-being of clients to address their goal of the highest quality of care. Inspired by augmented reality for immersive multisensory experience and the development of social robots, Feng’s research identified a way to meaningfully engage those with dementia and make a positive difference for this extraordinary group of users.

A merging of the digital and physical worlds

In addition to the total immersion offered by Virtual Reality, Feng investigated whether merging the digital and physical worlds could make sense for users with dementia and make solutions and applications easier to benefit from. Therefore, based on a previous effort, she implemented an interactive installation—Close to Nature—at Vitalis Berckelhof and advanced her Ph.D. research along this path, including replication designs, empirical studies, and experiments.

The design adopted reminiscence therapy and animal-assisted therapy to benefit a generation of Dutch elders who grew up on a farm. The installation has a tactile interface of an old-fashioned water pump that pumps actual water into half of the animal feed spoons. With simple interaction with the water pump, the screen will play a pre-recorded video of animals coming to drink water and then wandering off after a while. Feng’s experimental research findings showed that compared to virtual immersion alone, adding a tactile layer to the interaction helps to capture the user’s attention and enables the recall of youthful memories of people with dementia.

A social robot disguised as a sheep to activate people with dementia

To further enable a richer experience than the Closer to Nature installation, Feng brought a social robot into the new iteration design called LiveNature. LiveNature adopted a new approach that combines interaction with a social robot with an augmented reality display, to provoke positive emotional responses and enable multimodal interactions. Contact with animals is considered to have therapeutic effects, such as softening the mood and bringing relaxation, pleasure and satisfaction to people with dementia. In this design, human-robot interaction was augmented with visual and auditory feedback from the screen. Based on LiveNature, Feng further investigated how such a combination as a “richer” mode of interaction might affect the subjective user experience—engagement—of people with dementia.

A new way to quantify people’s subjective experience of dementia

Feng’s research addressed the challenge of robustly evaluating the engagement of people with dementia using a mixed method approach with qualitative studies and quantitative observations. Since self-reporting of subjective experience was often unavailable due to associated language and cognitive impairments. Therefore, in collaboration with her colleague Giulia Perugia, Feng applied an innovative method, the Ethnographic and Laban-Inspired Engagement Coding System, to quantify the subjective experience of engagement through observations of bodily behaviors. The results of the LiveNature-based experimental study suggested that enabling rich experiences on a sensory level may be a contributor to the positive emotional experiences of people with dementia.

Design knowledge derived from this Ph.D. the research can be used to inform future researchers. And this research will lead to more innovative technological solutions that promote the psychosocial well-being of people with dementia and contribute to living well with the condition after a formal diagnosis.

1 in 5 people who died from COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 had dementia, new figures confirm

More information:
Rich interaction for people with dementia: Designing interactive systems with rich interaction for increasing engagement of people with dementia living in long-term care facilities. … igning-interactive-s

Provided by Eindhoven University of Technology

citation: Technology boosts psychosocial well-being of people with dementia (2022, July 11) retrieved July 11, 2022 from

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