Principal Investigator: Professor Nigel Harris

Lead institution: Designability

Award amount: £203,699 over 3 years

An exploratory study of prompting technology for people with cognitive impairment: enabling carers to help people with dementia complete activities in the home

Common cognitive symptoms experienced by people living with dementia are short term memory loss, impaired communication, difficulty thinking and problem solving.  This results in difficulty completing   everyday activities of daily living, such as cooking, using electrical appliances and managing finances. Research is needed to identify technologies that will help to support people living with dementia to complete daily occupations at home, enhancing independence, prompting well-being and supporting carers by reducing the need for external support.

This grant, awarded in 2015, sought to assess a practical computer-based prompting system, for independent use by a carer, to enable a person with mild to moderate dementia to complete simple multi-step tasks in their own home. The prompting system was used to create step-by-step prompts on a tablet computer, which were personalised using combinations of audio, text and pictures. The study built on a previous research project, which explored how best to provide prompts to people with dementia.

The objective of the study was to evaluate and improve the design and assess the usability of the prototype by trialing it at home with people with mild-to-moderate dementia and their carers.  The primary research questions were:

  1. Can the training materials enable carers to choose and break down tasks into suitable steps and successfully load this task information onto a tablet computer?
  2. Can individuals with dementia understand and use the prompting technology to carry out tasks or activities in the home?

The study consisted of four-week home trials to test the prompter in a realistic home setting and recorded home interviews at the beginning and end of the trial period. Three goals were set during the first interview, two for the person with dementia and one for the carer (e.g. for the person with dementia to feel more confident carrying out a particular task, or for a carer to feel relied on less to give prompts).

Prof Harris and the research team successfully recruited 23 pairs of participants for the study, each pair consisting of a person living with dementia and their carer. The former of the research questions was positively affirmed during the study, with all carers successfully setting up personalised prompts using the software. The results for the second research question were more mixed with:

  • 9 pairs meeting all their goals
  • 11 pairs fully or partially meeting some of their goals
  • 3 pairs not meeting any of their goals

The recorded interview data was subject to thematic analysis and identified themes around attitudes to technology, judgments about utility and the emotional impact of prompting or being prompted.

A number of minor design changes have been made to the prototype prompter device and user handbook as a result of the study. The Designability team are now exploring the feasibility of developing a dedicated prompting tablet or a tablet-based prompting app.

The lead researcher on this grant was Dr Hazel Boyd. Co-applicants were: Professor Richard Cheston, Dr Krist Noonan and Nina Evans.

Contact for further information

Dr Hazel Boyd / Nina Evans  – Email: info@designability.org.uk