Research Projects

Building a conferencing system for people with dementia to enjoy virtual visits

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Older lady using the video conferencing system

What was needed

There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. People with dementia are often older people living alone and they can become isolated if their ability to use communication technology starts becoming more limited. The primary design requirement for this user group was for the technology to require no learning or experience of computers.

The inTouch project looked to develop a video conferencing system for people with dementia to enjoy ‘virtual visits’ with their relatives and friends in other households, reducing social isolation.

Who did it benefit

The outcomes from this project would benefit people with dementia and their carers by enabling social engagement and reassurance, and provide valuable information to the technology design community on how to approach the design process for this user group.

Design and development

We coordinated and managed this collaborative project, and carried out the following key tasks:

• Co-ordinating the initial focus groups
• Developing the prototype video link system by working directly with users
• Building a working prototype system
• Testing the prototype system by installing it in people’s homes
• Disseminating the findings – to include creating and maintaining a project website.

Prototype
The prototype inTouch video link system connects two households together over the internet and uses a customised, open-source video link platform. This platform gave us great flexibility during the design process, but could be replaced by another software platform in the future if necessary.

User involvement
To explore people’s hopes and concerns about a simple video link system we carried out 3 focus groups:

  • 1 with people with dementia
  • 1 with carers of people with dementia
  • 1 with professionals involved with people who have dementia

Design process
We designed the inTouch system, and in particular the interface, by working with staff and clients at the Peggy Dodd Centre in Bath. This allowed us to use iterative design to test detailed aspects of the system so that the end result would be usable by people with poor short-term memory.

Home testing
We installed the equipment in people’s homes to investigate the practical issues of how they would like to use inTouch in their own lives – something we could not learn from one-off testing outside people’s own homes.

What we found

The primary design finding was that it is possible to design a video link system that can be used by a range of people with different types of dementia. The combination of a touch screen and a telephone handset has been demonstrated to be a highly effective way of engaging people to use the inTouch video link. Some extra features, including picture-in-picture were tested, and found to be usable but not useful, and were therefore not included in the final prototype design.

Project partners

We worked in collaboration with the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE) and Dr Niki Panteli (University of Bath).

This project was primarily funded by the Research in the Wild Call as part of the Digital Economy Programme, which is a Research Councils UK cross council initiative led by EPSRC and contributed to by AHRC, ESRC, and MRC. Other donations were also made by The Peter Sowerby Trust, The Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust and The C. Rowbotham Charitable Trust.