There is a growing body of research examining the role of technology in supporting the care of – and relationships surrounding – people with dementia, yet little attention has been given to how this relates to younger family members. We conducted workshops with young people who had personal experience with dementia to understand the difficulties they face when engaging, interacting and being with people with dementia. Initial analysis of workshop data informed the design of three digital tool concepts that were used as the basis for user enactment workshops. Our findings highlight the young people’s desire to be more involved in their family discussions around dementia and a need for them to find new ways to connect with their loved ones with dementia.

Lifelong Health and Wellbeing

Older people are accounting for an increasingly higher percentage of the UK’s population, with life expectancy rising at an unprecedented rate and predictions that by 2033, 25% of the population will be over 65 years old. The Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme was set up in order to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented by the ageing population. It is led by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the Arts and Humanities, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences and Economic and Social Research Councils and provides a platform to fund and coordinate multidisciplinary research into ageing.

Among the project’s aims are:
• to target factors over the course of an individual’s life that may have a pronounced effect upon their health and wellbeing when they are older,
• to identify and develop effective interventions that lead to improved health and quality of life as people grow older,
• to inform the development of services and technologies to support independent living,
• to increase capacity and capability in ageing-relevant research.

Newcastle’s role concerns mental wellbeing in later life. We have developed a Wearable Acoustic Monitor, which measures the wearer’s level of social interaction. The premise of the design is that socialising with people is a vital aspect of our emotional wellbeing, while equally our emotional wellbeing can have an impact upon the degree to which we wish to socialise. For people with depression or other illnesses that may cause them to engage less with other people either voluntarily or involuntarily, monitoring social interaction can therefore be a good indicator of that person’s emotional wellbeing.

See also: Wearable Acoustic Monitor

Date: Jan 2012 – Aug 2013
Funding: MRC: Medical Research Council £247,327
Researchers: John O’Brien – Institute for Ageing & Health (PI),  Peter Gallagher, and Nicole Ferrier – Institute of Neuroscience, Jeff Neasham, and Satnam Dlay – Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering (CIs).  Patrick Olivier (Coll). Roisin McNaney, Bin GaoCas Ladha, Karim Ladha

Tales of I

Tales of I is a installation developed in collaboration with an adult mental health and learning disability development unit. Many residents of the unit have chronic dementia, and the room is intended to help trigger pleasant memories. Tales of I consists of two bespoke pieces of furniture, a wall cabinet and a television cabinet. The wall cabinet holds seven small, themed, resin globes that encase colourful images and sculptures. Each globe has a RFID tag on its base. The television unit has a RFID reader in the top of it, so that when users place a globe on the television, it plays a short film relating to the theme of the globe.

There is also an “All About Me” aspect to the project, in that staff at the unit can create personal films for individual residents. We created this to be an extension of the existing staff practice of making books for each resident, which contain scanned photographs and details of the resident’s life. These are used to de-escalate situations when residents are upset, as they enable discussion of comforting, familiar aspects of residents’ lives.

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

See the entry for the Reminiscence Room on the SiDE website.


Ambient Kitchen

The Ambient Kitchen is a platform for research in pervasive computing that was installed at Culture Lab in 2007. It is a proof-of-concept context-aware computing environment, originally designed to demonstrate the potential for technology to support older adults live independently for longer, but since developed to explore the role of context-aware computing to support healthier eating and also task-based language learning (i.e. learning a language through cooking). The application within the Ambient Kitchen that was developed to explore prompting of people with dementia preparing food and drinks was done is collaboration with Jesse Hoey (University of Waterloo) and Andrew Monk (then University of York but now a visiting professor at Newcastle University).


Sensing Technologies: The current version of the Ambient Kitchen uses RFID technology (embedded in the worktops and the cupboards), a pressure-sensitive floor (under the laminate flooring), multiple flat LCDs screens (behind tinted glass wall covering), and numerous wireless accelerometers embedded into specially adapted utensils. Through this sensing infrastructure the behaviour of users in the kitchen can be tracked and reasoned about.

utensils    knife

Collaborators: Jesse Hoey (University of Waterloo); Andrew Monk (University of York); Guangyou Xu (Tsinghua University).



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Personhood in Dementia

Jewellery is inherently connected to the body: as a symbol of self, as a witness to our experiences, as a conduit to transport us to other times, places and people and because it signifies aspects of identity and inter-personal relationships. The role of the body becomes acute in dementia, being something that can represent identity when other means, such as speech, have dissolved. Therefore there is potential for jewellery to bring significant benefits to someone with dementia. It could make a profound difference to a dementia sufferer’s internal and external representation of self, and significantly benefit the maintenance of personhood.

We have worked with individuals living with mild dementia and their close family members to make personalised wearable sensors that are enjoyable and meaningful for the wearer, echoing elements of their life stories and treasured relationships and experiences. We hope that the pieces will aid an empathic engagement with people who are living with memory loss, as well as being tangible aids for people with dementia in their recollections of their self and their past experiences.

See also: Digital Jewellery

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

Press release: Making digital personal: bringing jewellery into the technological age

Keeping in Touch Every Day

For the KITE (Keeping in Touch Every Day) project, we developed two prototype devices in collaboration with two people with dementia and their carers. The devices were intended to assist the particular individuals involved in the project in the maintenance of solitary activities outside the house and help alleviate fears they or their carers may have about them becoming lost. One of these people was a woman who wanted a device to support her visits to friends and family (she drove a car) and the other was a man who wanted to use it while out running. The first device was embedded in a specially design notebook, and the second took the form of an runner’s armband.

The devices incorporated both GPS (for positioning) and GSM communications. When in use, a device continuously reported a user’s location to a central web server that, when requested, would transmit the last known location for the device to a mobile phone or computer. If the user was concerned that they were lost, they could press a panic button on the device that would trigger the server to send a text message to their carer’s mobile phone. The text was accompanied by a map showing the person with dementia’s location.

Part of the KITE: Keeping in Touch Every Day project.

KITE: Keeping in touch every day


People with dementia commonly experience memory problems. A concern for both them and their carers, therefore, is that they will become lost while out alone. While not unreasonable, this can prevent the maintenance of healthy, useful and enjoyable practices that people with mild to moderate dementia are often otherwise capable of carrying out, such as walking, jogging or driving. The aim of the KITE project was to develop technology that would help alleviate these worries, while enabling people with dementia to maintain their independence and continue to take part in these activities.

We went through a participatory design process with both people with dementia and their carers that had three parts. These were the scoping stage, where we asked our participants about their experiences of “getting out and about, the participatory design workshop stage, where our participants were invited back to help us explore what features they would expect from technology designed to aid them in getting out and about, and the prototype design stage, where we developed prototype devices for two people with dementia. In the participatory design stage, the importance of the device being easily integrated into everyday routines was stressed, as well as being simple to use. We utilised what we had found out in the participatory design stage to tailor each device to its user and the activity during which they would most likely be using it. The devices incorporated GPS functions that enabled them to see their location and to transmit information about their whereabouts to their carer.

See also: KITE

Date: Jul 2007 – Feb 2009

Funding: EPSRC: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, CELS:Centre for Excellence in Life Sciences. £101,100

Researchers: Patrick Olivier (PI). Louise Robinson, and Katie Britain (CIs) – Institute of Health & Society.
Cas Ladha, Dan Jackson, Stephen Lindsay.


“KITE is helping to raise hopes”, Evening Chronicle, (no online archive)

“Device to improve life for dementia sufferers”, Journal Live, 20 Mar 2008

“Electronic tag hope for Alzheimer’s patients”, The Telegraph, 31 Mar 2008



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Engaging Older Adults & People with Dementia in Design

An ageing population and a rise in dementia among the older community mean that it is becoming increasingly important for people who are designing digital technologies to engage older people in the process. However, it is rare in the field of HCI for research to even refer to older adults. For example, at a recent leading HCI conference, less than 2% of papers touched on issues related to ageing.

The purpose of this PhD, therefore, was to investigate the ways in which older adults and people with dementia can be engaged in the design of digital technologies. We recruited numerous people from these groups to create participatory design techniques and develop prototypes in response to the needs they articulated. This research was carried out alongside the KITE and OASIS projects, and the design approach we developed during the course of this PhD was applied to the issues those projects addressed and then refined using their findings.

Date: October 2006 – August 2011

Project supervisor: Patrick Olivier, Katie Brittain, Louise Robinson

Funding: EPSRC