More than Human Centred Design


AmbientEcho: An Interactive Media Experience for Residential Dementia Care

  • Myrte Thoolen, Industrial Design, University of Technology Eindhoven, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Rens Brankaert, Industrial Design, University of Technology Eindhoven, Eindhoven, Netherlands; Institute of Allied Health Professions, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Yuan Lu, Industrial Design, University of Technology Eindhoven, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Corresponding email(s): m.e.thoolen@tue.nl
  • Research group webpage
  • ACM DL Link: Associated Paper or Pictorial

People with dementia living in residential care are often excluded from participating in enriched media experiences, since most technologies that offer media experiences do not respond to their unique individual needs and to the context in which it is used. AmbientEcho is an interactive system that offers bespoke and curated media content through different interaction modalities to engage residents to stimulating and enriching media. The system is placed in a half-open space with cozy features to provide media in a non-intrusive way. The primary media vehicle is a virtual window, enhanced by an intimate experience through a photo frame, ambient music, and matching light. AmbientEcho automatically displays bespoke media when a personal Bluetooth necklace is in range, or the system displays curated media by placing a coloured disc in the bowl on the table. With its combined media approach, we found that AmbientEcho triggers rich personal associations, facilitates revival of identity, and encourages meaningful shared experiences. This user and context-specific system offers a suitable media experience that lowered barriers of complexity in using media technologies for often excluded user groups. Our demo shows how design can support a person-centred experience, setting the stage for future design research in sensitive settings.

Who is the target audience and why design for them? The demo is designed for people with mid to late-stage dementia living in residential care, to engage them meaningfully through media. With an aging population, the number of people living with dementia is increasing at an unprecedented pace. This increase will lead to greater demand for residential dementia care, attention is increasingly being focused on providing a pleasant living environment for each individual. Residents report a lack of access to meaningful activities, since they are often treated as passive recipients of care that are no longer able to experience things or contribute. This excludes them from engaging in meaningful activities and experiences. Research have considered technology-aided reminiscence activities as an opportunity to engage residents meaningfully in residential care. Careful design of technology can provide a means to enhance access to such activities involving rich and stimulating media, which can be of significant benefit for people in residential care. Looking at dementia from a more inclusive and socially just perspective opens up novel directions for technology and design research, showing the potential of design to support the personal experiences. As such, we designed AmbientEcho to maximize access to stimulating media and support person-centred experiences of people with dementia.

What were the challenges or limitations encountered in this project? We had to ensure that the technology was stable enough for optimal use and to properly evaluate the novel design in the context of a care home. As described in our paper, the system could be used throughout the study period, meaning it had to work even when the researchers were not present. We found that it is important to allow time for caregivers to get to explore and experiment with the technology before adopting it in their care practice, where it is desirable that researchers should give an introduction workshop in advance. Thereby, it is not easy to recruit people with dementia for a study. Factors affecting eligibility for participation include a lack of knowledge of the effect of a novel technology or design, strict ethical recruitment criteria, the need for cooperation of a partner or caregiver, and the unexpected passing away of participants during the study. Finally, a challenge in designing for dementia care is that it is a challenging population to study due to its heterogeneous nature, making the impact and experiences different between individuals. The need can change day by day, which means that the personal content may no longer be appropriate at a specific moment.

What are the opportunities and next steps for this project? Given the positive responses of all participants, we are currently working on a second, more advanced, version of the design. As described in our paper, more research is needed in order to explore what it means to have systems such as AmbientEcho in complex, socially situated care practices, and how to adapt to person’s social and spatial arrangements that are needed to integrate technology into care. In the second version, we want to investigate how we can make the system adaptive, according to the individual needs of each resident. Building further on the nature of participation in residential care and how media can contribute to a shared experience, we argue for opening up the design space with appropriate designed dialogue patterns. In this, media interventions should be anchored, and user-specific knowledge should be shared within the system for it to be able to adapt to the context. According to developments in HCI, the inclusion of such technology as non-human agents in care offers valuable opportunities for design researchers to explore. Therefore, further exploring the opportunities of a user and context-specific technology, and the use of tailor-made media in care for people with dementia is an interesting next step for HCI.

To the Demo Visitors: First of all, we are interested in your perspective on the design aspect of our demo and your view on designing for people with dementia. Secondly, we are interested in your perspective on designing appropriate designed dialogue patterns to respond to user-specific information. In AmbientEcho, we made the dialogue mainly self-steering, but we are curious about your view on designing technology that is adaptable and responsive to the specific needs of each individual in a shared environment. Finally, I am fascinated in your opinion about the sustainability of such a demo, and how we can ensure that technology can adjust or grow along with the different dynamics of dementia. Should technology be able to change over time? With AmbientEcho, we would like to show that designers should consider sensitive inclusion, adapted levels of interaction and variety in use when designing media interventions in dementia care. When considering this, it engages residents, family, and care practitioners in experiencing meaningful moments together and increase a sense of agency in people living in a residential care unit. Our demo demonstrates how design can be sensitive to a diverse user group within residential dementia care. The combination of generally curated media, and personally bespoke media contribute to meaningful shared experiences. By evaluating AmbientEcho in-situ, we found a necessity to enhance appropriate applications of media, where the media is suitable to individuals’ interest and open for curation to support a continuous curiosity in using the system over time. This content stimulates interpretation and give residents the chance to recall stories that are important to them, in the ‘now’, instead of determining past experiences beforehand – often solely inspired by related others. It is important to facilitate media experiences that do not require difficult physical or cognitive actions from all users. Here, it is important to not only create a bespoke intervention, but one which also incorporates technology that supports different levels of use.