With the variety of memory games available as mobile applications, maintaining cognitive agility and health is just at your fingertips. However, as we speed ahead with digital technology, access to these apps are challenging to navigate for senior citizens who are advanced in age, especially those with dementia.
Addressing this gap, the team from the ABLE Studio at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) offers games specially designed to help dementia patients improve their memory. Associate Professor Philip Yap, senior consultant and director of KTPH's geriatric centre, shares more about these games and how they can train cognitive capabilities.
“The idea to create the games went as far back as 15 years ago, at a time when cognitive training or rehabilitation for patients with dementia was still at an infancy stage,” says Associate Professor Yap. The research data was still emerging, and the data available was not robust enough. There were also dementia patients as well as their family members who were looking for something that could help with maintaining cognitive abilities. Associate Professor Yap and his team saw a need to fill this gap.
“We wanted to ride on this opportunity to provide something for the older population. We did recognise the need and demand for this. The idea to create games for dementia patients was based on understanding their needs and the state of affairs in the field of caring for dementia patients,” Associate Professor Yap adds.
Domain Specific Training
The dementia team which originated in Alexandra Hospital, came up with a concept where the games will provide domain-specific training. Some of the dementia patients attend daycare, where they are exposed to socially and cognitively stimulating activities in a stimulating environment. They are engaged in varied activities, and there is peer pressure and peer support. This combination of experiences is referred to as cognitive stimulation therapy.
Associate Professor Yap explains, “Domain-specific cognitive training is similar to the way you would train a specific area of your body like muscle strength, endurance, or balance. Similarly, when training the mind, you can also drill down to training specific cognitive areas. With targeted training for a specific domain, you can potentially improve outcomes in the area that is being trained.”
Among the collection of games, Associate Professor Philip Yap highlights 4 sets of games that are designed to target the key cognitive domains and are focused on domain-specific cognitive training.
- See-Me: To exercise memory capabilities
- See-Speed: To train mental processing speed, concentration, and focus
- See-Logical: To train logic reasoning and problem solving
- See-Shape: To train visual spatial and visual constructional abilities.
The simplest one would be the See-Shape, which is simply about putting the shapes together to fit the figure. This gives dementia patients some practice in visuo-construction and problem solving. There is also a range of difficulty levels to accommodate different groups of people with a variety of abilities. “See-Shape is popular, and people like it because it is manipulative and colourful,” he highlights.
While there is currently no data to show if dementia can be reversed or improved, some research studies have shown that patients who are in the pre-dementia stage or with very mild dementia can improve or maintain their abilities in a particular cognitive domain during the intervention period if training is focused in that specific domain.
Whether this capability is transferable to other areas or if it ameliorates decline or forestalls the onset of dementia on the overall, more studies are needed to demonstrate this. “However, what is really valuable is that it can keep dementia patients meaningfully engaged. Family members actually like that and like to see that they are doing something purposeful,” advises Associate Professor Yap.
Working with an educational games company, one of the early challenges in designing the game was to get the collaborator to better understand the design from the healthcare perspective. With mutual support and co-learning aspirations, the product went through many iterations and rounds of testing with the target group, taking in feedback from patients to further improve the product.
The innovation journey from concept to market took almost 2 years, and resulted in game sets that caters to individuals as well as for use as a group activity, a welcome tool for group therapy sessions and to exercise group dynamics.
Thriving in the face of digitalisation, the game sets maintain its relevance in helping senior dementia patients. Associate Professor Yap and his team have been driven by the passion to provide a solution to help patients and older people in general. Holding on to this passion, his advice is to always find out and understand the needs of patients well, and identify the areas that are not adequately fulfilled, and think of ways to meet those needs.
“We can then hopefully come up with more innovative ideas to fill the gaps. The starting point of the journey is usually based on the needs and desires of our patients,” he encourages.
You can purchase the Mind Game set from The Able Studio today.