CIRCA: Conversation support for people with dementia and their carers

Research Policy Office
Thursday 26 June 2014

Maggie Ellis works with a patient with dementia using the CIRCA technology

CIRCA, Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid, is a novel touchscreen computer system designed to support conversation between people with dementia and their caregivers. CIRCA was based on research into the memory and communicative problems of people with dementia conducted by Prof. Arlene Astell, Dr Barbara Dritschell and Dr Maggie Ellis of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Screenshots of the CIRCA softwareTypically, people with dementia experience impairments in short-term memory, whilst retaining relatively well-spared long-term autobiographical memory. As such, it is often easier for people with dementia to talk about the past rather than recent events.

In collaboration with the University of Dundee and a major care home provider, the researchers developed CIRCA as a means of presenting multimedia reminiscence material – photographs, videos and music – to people with dementia and their caregivers. It was found that people with dementia were more likely to initiate conversations about the material and were more equal partners in the conversations when using CIRCA as compared to traditional reminiscence methods (Astell et al., 2010; doi: 10.1016/j.intcom.2010.03.003). The CIRCA system allows individuals with dementia to choose from a range of subjects from the past, thereby facilitating their retained long-term memory and providing prompts for successful conversations. CIRCA has been installed in numerous residential or day-care settings around the UK, including NHS and Council run residential care centres, Age Concern and Alzheimer’s Scotland Centres and private care homes.

The project has been funded by: Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Alzheimer’s Association and the Technology Strategy Board.

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