Magic table helps people with dementia

Millions of people around the world, mainly the elderly, suffer from dementia. One TU Delft PhD candidate has developed an innovative way to try and improve their lives.

Most people with dementia are passive during the day, often staring into the distance with little to no interaction with the people around them. This can have a negative effect on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. As part of the Active Cues project in the Persuasive Game Design (PGD) research group (Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering), Hester Anderiesen conceived and designed the Tovertafel (magic table) to give these people a better quality of life.

According to Anderiesen, people with dementia need stimulation, but there is often a lack of staff or family that can keep them busy the whole day. The Tovertafel offers a playful way to stimulate physical activity and social interaction with minimal guidance.

Although called a table, the invention is not actually a table itself. “It’s a box that is suspended from the ceiling above a table and it uses infrared sensors to detect movement of arms and hands,” said Anderiesen. “It also contains a projector with which we can project light animations on the table.” She went on to explain that it provides something visual that stimulates a part of the brain that makes people react and interact.

To study and design for their target group, Anderiesen and her team collaborated closely with design companies, neuropsychologists, and care professionals. So far they have developed seven games, some with a social character and some with a more physical challenge. So far the Tovertafel has been sold to roughly 80 nursing homes since its launch in March of this year. “We are now selling in The Netherlands and Belgium and hopefully in Germany and the UK early next year,” said Anderiesen. The Active Cues team is also currently developing new products for other groups with special needs, for example cognitively impaired people and children with autism.

When she finishes her PhD, Anderiesen plans to build a company with Active Cues that can make games available for people with special needs to benefit their quality of life and health. “I think the strength of games is that they can be very immersive and that might be something to strive after with product design,” said Anderiesen on the PGD website. “By designing for play experiences we can motivate people to use our products, whether they aim for a behavioral change or not.”

The Tovertafel has gotten some recent industry attention. It was featured on the MAX programme ‘Tijd voor Meldpunt‘ and just this week won ‘Best Serious Game’ in the Dutch Game Awards, the industry awards for the Dutch and Flemish game industry.

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