Elder Care: Creating a Sense of Purpose with Meaningful Tasks — How can Technology Improve Quality of Life in People with Dementia?

Currently, in long-term care environments almost all activities are organized and initiated by caregivers and workers. There is simply not enough time and money to implement a full regimen of meaningful activities for everyone living with dementia. How can appropriately designed technology improve the quality of life of people living with dementia? How can they be provided with meaningful activities and engaging interactions?

In this talk we will describe the development and evaluation of two new families of products for people with dementia. 1) Ambient Activities are being developed by our industrial partner (Ambient Activity Technologies) based on Montessori principles where sensori-motor interactions are emphasized, and are being evaluated by our research team in long-term care settings. 2) Reinforcement-learning based tools (Centivizers) are being developed in the Interactive Media Laboratory at the University of Toronto using an iterative design approach.

In this workshop I will discuss some of the science behind the use of Ambient Activities and Centivizers, and will describe some of the design challenges we face and some of the methods we are using to evaluate and improve the systems being developed. Live demonstrations of some of the developed products will be given. Discussions on the design requirements and design options based on participants’ experiences with, or knowledge of, dementia will also take place. Our goal is to make this session a joint learning experience where we can exchange ideas on how to improve quality of life and sense of purpose for people with dementia living at home or in a long term care setting.


Mark Chignell, is a Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Psychology (University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 1981), and an M.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering (Ohio State, 1984). In addition to being the Director of the Interactive Media Lab, he is President of Vocalage Inc., a University of Toronto spinoff company, and a visiting scientist at both the IBM Centre for Advanced Studies and Keio University in Japan.

Dr. Andrea Wilkinson has a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Cognitive Aging. She is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Mark Chignell’s Interactive Media Lab, Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering. Andrea’s research seeks to evaluate the impact of Ambient Activity Technologies on well-being related outcomes in residents with dementia, their loved ones, and long-term care staff. Her work is being funded through the AGE-WELL NCE: Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Award in Technology and Aging (2015-2017).