University of Worcester study reveals iPads have substantial potential to improve quality of life for people living in care homes

Interest in the use of touchscreen technology to improve the quality of life for older people, and in particular those living with dementia, is growing.

But, according to researchers at the world-renowned Association for Dementia Studies at the University of Worcester, until now there has been a dearth of systematic approaches to introducing and using touchscreen technology in care settings, as well as a lack of evidence based analysis of the benefits.

The researchers have today published the findings of an eight-month study conducted in partnership with Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people.

In the largest systematic roll-out of iPads in care homes in England, Anchor has introduced tablets to 75% of its care homes (currently 63 homes across the country).

Researchers have used a range of methods to evaluate the approach and benefits of the roll-out. The findings reveal that if managed correctly, iPads have significant potential to enhance the quality of life of older people and particularly those living with dementia.

Dr Simon Evans, Principal Research Fellow, led the research: “This is the first time we’ve seen iPads introduced within care settings in this kind of comprehensive, considered way and at this scale. We were delighted to be commissioned by Anchor to carry out this evaluation and to capture the learning from this approach.

“Central to our findings is that just having the technology present isn’t enough. The key is how the iPads are introduced and used and the training and support provided to staff to make the most of their potential to enhance quality of life.

“If used in the right way iPads can make a big difference to people living with dementia. This represents an innovative and significant step in understanding the role technology plays in improving quality of life and wellbeing.

“Our report highlights best practice for introducing and using touchscreen technology in care settings in a way that can maximise the benefits.”

The evaluation identified some of the most useful apps for care staff to reassure, calm, interest and engage residents. Games like Pictionary and music apps can be used to bring groups together for fun or reminiscence.

Interestingly, in 98% of cases, iPads are being used to create new activities or develop existing ones – suggesting they are further enriching residents’ lives rather than simply digitising what homes were already providing. The iPads also allowed greater interaction between residents with 56% of staff able to involve ten or more residents in activities at one time. Interaction with relatives was also cited as a key benefit with 46% of staff involving family members through the use of iPads.

Joanne Laverty, a dementia specialist at Anchor said: “For us, it’s always about seeing the person before the dementia. That means everyone’s care is tailored to them, and activities and fun are central to that. As part of our Anchor Inspires model to deliver the best possible dementia care, we decided to introduce iPads across our care homes. Backed up with training and support for staff, it’s allowed us to explore an even greater range and breadth of ways for carers and families to connect with people living with dementia and ensure they get the most out of life.”

Anchor Inspires is an innovative model of care for people living with dementia. It provides a truly person-centred approach to understanding and enhancing the lives of people living with dementia, which includes providing tailored environments, high quality staff training and inspiring meaningful activity for residents.

The care model concept is based on theories and research from around the globe as well as existing best practice in Anchor care homes. Anchor’s in-house dementia experts have developed the innovative model, which includes 55 indicators to assess outstanding dementia care.

Zahid Khan who has overseen the iPads project at Anchor said: “iPads in care homes are a vital, life enhancing resource for people living with dementia. Tablets built to the right technical specification and used by trained carers, can have a positive impact on the quality of someone’s life. Working with Activity Co-ordinators in Anchor’s care homes has enabled me to see some ‘magic moments’ first-hand, where someone can see their grandchild for the first time [over Skype] or when a former pianist living with arthritis can play again using a music app.”

Researchers identified a range of positive outcomes for residents with dementia including increased interaction, greater inclusion and improved communication with relatives. Anchor’s dedicated Activity Co-ordinators play an essential role in ensuring the iPads are used effectively.

Case studies:
• The Activity Co-ordinator in one care home was able to fulfil the final wish of one resident by setting up a video call on the iPad. The resident “got to see his daughter and grandchild” two days before he passed away.
• Music helps one resident in terms of improving her mood, “especially if she’s a bit down”. Engagement through music is enhanced by the iPad by making it easier to personalise music choices or respond to requests.
• One resident became agitated and wanted to leave their care home to return to their own house. The Activity Co-ordinator was able to use the iPad to look up where the resident had lived previously and show them their house and surrounding area using Google Maps. This helped to settle the resident and trigger positive memories and conversations.

Anchor and the University of Worcester have published a guide with advice on the best ways to use iPads to help care for people living with dementia. This is available to download atanchor.org.uk/ipads

Read more about the study, here.