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Using technologies to promote meaningful engagement for people with dementia


Delegates to Occupational Therapy Australia’s (OTA) 28th National Conference have been told that alongside the growth in the incidence of dementia there have been significant advances in the sort of computer-based and electronic technologies that might be of value to those experiencing the condition.

Ms Imojean Best, an occupational therapist who completed her honours project last year at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Dr Meryl Lovarini and Dr Sanet du Toit, noted that a significant number of people with dementia live in residential aged care facilities, where loneliness and boredom are common.

“While there is potential for emerging technologies to improve the engagement of residents with dementia living in residential aged care, the nature and extent of the evidence supporting their use is unclear,” Ms Best said.

“The aim of our study was to identify and synthesise peer-reviewed, empirical studies investigating the use of computer-based and electronic technologies for enhancing meaningful engagement of people with dementia living in residential aged care.

“A scoping review was conducted using recognised methods. Nine databases were searched from 2008-2018. Studies were independently screened and assessed for inclusion. Included studies were summarised, compared and synthesised according to study aim and technology type.”

Twenty studies were included. Most were conducted in Australia and Europe and there were a range of study designs. Studies aimed to investigate interaction, engagement, behaviours or quality of life, or examined the feasibility of technologies.

Technologies were of two types: robotics or multi-media computer programs. Within robotics, the majority were animal robots, the most common technology being ‘Paro’, a baby seal robot developed specifically for people with dementia. ‘Paro’ moves in response to various stimuli, including touch, light, voice and temperature. In general, results from the studies indicated that those with more severe dementia responded more positively to animal robots such as Paro.

“Our results indicate that computer-based and electronic technologies may promote engagement between residents and staff by providing a focal point for interaction,” Ms Best said. “In general, papers that focused upon connecting and belonging through the use of technology had better outcomes for dementia. In contrast, studies that focused upon the technology itself as providing meaningful engagement had less positive outcomes.”

Ms Best concluded that occupational therapists have a critical role in promoting occupational justice by creating opportunities for meaningful engagement.

“Technology can be a useful tool in creating opportunities for meaningful engagement,” she said.

“However, it is vital that individual preferences are taken into account and that these technologies are not viewed as a one size fits all approach.”

Approximately 1,350 delegates have converged on Sydney’s International Convention Centre for OTA’s 28th National Conference, the theme of which is Together Towards Tomorrow, which highlights the many ways in which occupational therapists work together and in partnership with consumers, communities and colleagues to support optimal occupational performance, health and well-being.

The conference, featuring plenary sessions and academic presentations, enables delegates to learn about and discuss the latest developments in the science of occupational therapy. It runs from 10 to 12 July.

Media Contact
Michael Barrett | Government, Media and Public Relations
0403 795 505

About Occupational Therapy Australia
Occupational Therapy Australia is the national professional association representing occupational therapy in Australia. We offer opportunities for our members to enhance best practice through professional development, support, and access to profession-specific information.

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