Visiting with a loved one who suffers from memory impairment due to Alzheimer’s, dementia or other cognitive impairment can be difficult. It can be hard to find ways to interact that keep anxiety levels down and your loved one engaged.
This is true for staffers in care facilities, as well. Finding ways to engage residents who lack the ability to follow the rules of a game or activity can be challenging for both residents and staff.
Tovertafel is a new technology for care homes that provides an easy way for residents, staff and loved ones to interact in a way that stimulates the brains of those suffering from memory-impairing diseases. The device projects interactive games on a table or the floor, and the games encourage movement and interaction through realistic light projections and movement.
“It’s a device that we mount from the ceiling and create a projection field as big as a dining table,” said Hester Le Riche, CEO and founder of Tover, the company behind the device. “The whole table is an interactive environment.”
Le Riche has spent more than a decade working to improve the lives of those with dementia and landed on light as a subtle way to help people. She was working on a project to see if light could stimulate people to drink a cup of coffee. No one ever drank the coffee, but: “A woman started playing with the lights,” Le Riche said. “That was a turning point in my project.”
“My goal was to stimulate activity,” she added. “If moving light is playful, then let’s see what we can do with lights.”
Le Riche and her team began experimenting with different games using projected light. They designed 70 projections and observed what created the biggest reaction, then narrowed it down to six games for the first iteration of the system.
The system successfully stimulated activity among those suffering from memory-related diseases, and Tovertafel now includes more than 35 games and has been purchased by more than 6,000 care homes globally. The device recently became available in the United States.
Making a difference
Terrace Communities, a company that has long-term care homes in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, is an early U.S. adopter of the Tovertafel technology. Currently, three of their communities share a device, but plans are in the works to get each facility their own device.
It’s beyond words the change that it’s made in the residents in memory care.
“We have it installed down in our memory care unit primarily,” said Cindy Wiegand, life enrichment director. “It’s beyond words the change that it’s made in the residents in memory care.”
Wiegand joined the staff in October, and the system was installed the week before Thanksgiving. “In the one month time being down in memory care without the Tover and then interacting with the memory care residents when it was put in in November is like you flipped a switch,” she said. “It’s just a fun activity with bright colors and different sounds, and the variety of games and exercises that are on it keeps everyone entertained.”
Pudge Eaton, marketing admissions coordinator, said the residents love it and so do the staff. She said Tovertafel is especially helpful at night when the activities staff have left for the day. If a resident is worried or anxious, the Tover device can help calm them down.
“Because of the multitude of different activities that are on it, you can have them listen to this nice soft music and interact with the design on the table,” she said. “Music is one of the things that will always calm them down. It’s so simple that staff can do it. Even in the middle of the night, the staff can turn on the Tover and they can entertain, keep them occupied and keep them engaged in something other than what they were worrying about.”
Something for everyone
Tover not only has a variety of games, but each game can be played at five different levels, making it a perfect form of engagement no matter how far a resident’s condition may have progressed. It allows high-functioning residents and more cognitively impaired residents to participate in activities together.
For example, Eaton points to a time when they were doing a gardening activity on Tover. One high-functioning resident spent the time talking with the staff about gardening as they played, while another more cognitively impaired resident interacted with the light table by moving things around.
Games are designed to be played with one to eight players, but the system will recognize how many people are playing and make sure each player has things to interact with in front of them.
“The change in the demeanor of the residents when they are actively involved in a Tover activity is amazing,” Wiegand said. “They’re inquisitive. Some that don’t speak much may ask a question. They’re very interested in the mechanics of it. You can move an object by just gently moving your fingers. It’s just so simple and versatile in a sense that you can display it on the table so they’re sitting upright or if you want a bit more involvement, you can display it on the floor. You can change it around to match the abilities of each individual at the time.”
And while COVID-19 has kept visits from loved ones confined to the private rooms at the facilities, Eaton and Wiegand are looking forward to the time when visitors can engage with their loved ones in the common area through Tover.
“When family members can finally come in and sit with their loved ones, you’re going to have grandchildren coming in to visit their grandparents, and just being able to see their faces when they can sit down and play with their grandmother or their grandfather,” Wiegand said. “They are going to want to visit their grandparents much more often.”
That interaction with families was a driving force behind the development of the system.
“How do you create a beautiful moment together?” Le Riche said. “Put the reality of today aside. You really have that interpersonal connection again and try to eliminate the challenges for a little bit.”