Heidi Hinder is an artist-maker and researcher. Trained in Jewellery, Silversmithing & Related Products, Heidi’s practice now broadly incorporates wearable technology and interaction design, in addition to more traditional art objects. She explores the opportunities afforded by digital innovation in her work, while maintaining integrity to her craft-based training and an adherence to the value of materials and making. Heidi is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Birmingham City University (3D Design) and is leading a collaborative research project with the V&A Museum.
A few weeks ago, we met with the Deputy Care Manager of the specialist dementia home that we are working with, in order to discuss the possibility of testing out our therapeutic rocking chair in situ, with some of the residents.
After some very useful conversations about health and safety, in perspective with positive risk-taking to ensure quality of life, we walked around the communal areas of the home, to choose a suitable location for the rocking chair to be situated on the initial test day.
There is a lovely ‘Garden Room’ in the care home which is not often used by the residents, partly due to the slightly foreboding approach of this long corridor:
Once there however, the space is sunny and peaceful, and as its name suggests, the Garden Room overlooks a wide lawn, edged by plants, bird tables, a water fountain and flowerbeds:
The natural place for the therapeutic rocking chair was in front of the French doors, so that residents could enjoy the view of the garden, while listening to music, poetry or sounds from nature, such as the dawn chorus, the wind in the treetops or crickets singing on a summer’s evening:
On the test day, the rocking chair was trialed by eight residents and four care staff. It was very touching to watch their reactions and witness some delightful responses, not only to the chair itself as a novel item of furniture in the home, but also to the varying sound content triggered by the rocking motion and movement.
One resident, a former pilot, spent some time to begin with, exploring the surface of the chair through touch, commenting that it was like being in the cockpit of an aeroplane. Then, listening carefully to the different sounds emitting from the speakers embedded in the rocking chair’s headrests, she identified a woodpecker and an owl’s call among the chorus of birdsong, and she even cooed back to the owl in reply. As she heard the rhythmic sound of someone walking on snow, she lifted her legs up and down in time, keeping apace with them, and describing a vivid story to us about what was happening in her imagination: ‘The farmer’s on his way…’
Later in the day, we decided to adjust the sensitivity of the app so that it would trigger the sound from much more subtle movements, in order to correspond to the level of strength and capability in some of the residents. Where their own physical co-ordination had deteriorated, residents were passively rocked by a member of staff who moved the chair on their behalf. One resident was only able to activate the sound content via the app when holding my iPhone in her hand, and making small gestures to keep it moving and playing.
As a result, alongside the interactive rocking chair, we are planning to develop a handheld object-based version of the app, by embedding an iPhone into a tactile object, such as a foam ball, that could be used for armchair exercises for older people in care homes. Continuous movement of the object would similarly trigger sounds, music or poems, combining light muscle activity with a spontaneous audio experience.
On the test day, not all the residents seemed to recognise that sound was triggered by movement through the rocking motion, or necessarily to register that sound was playing at all, but this did not seem to matter. At some level, all the residents appeared to benefit from, and engage with the therapeutic rocking chair experience, even if it was simply to snooze in the sunshine, or relax and enjoy the new position overlooking the garden.
We look forward to developing our prototype over the next few months!
Following on from our pop-up exhibition of audio stories, produced from our winter visit to the MShed (see Memories and Museums) we have been developing another auditory experience using chairs, and inspiration drawn from venturing outdoors. Here I introduce the concept of a therapeutic rocking chair for older people with dementia.
Early on in the Tangible Memories project, we recognised that access to the outdoors, and specifically to the natural world, was very limited for many care home residents, often due to a decline in their physical mobility, or particularly if they were suffering from the more advanced stages of dementia. Equally, when we asked ourselves as a team, ‘what would we want in a care home of the future?’, we identified the simple routine of being able to go outside and experience the elements as something that would be of great importance to us all.
So throughout the project, we have been seeking different ways to incorporate aspects of life outside the care home environment into our technologies and prototypes, for those who are not able to venture out independently, or as often as they might like.
To begin with, we explored virtual travel using the Oculus Rift VR headset (see Virtual Reality Storytelling), with 360˚ stitched photographs of local places and museums:
We also offered VR experiences using moving imagery, sending residents to a virtual Tuscan villa, up in a hot air balloon, and even into the solar system on an animated space journey. Closer to home, we had previously recorded a kind of video postcard that reflects on the beauty of springtime in the countryside:
In this short film, as we focused on the many calming and uplifting effects of nature, such as birdsong or the sound of a river, we felt that adopting such a therapeutic approach would be particularly beneficial to residents living in the specialist dementia care home. Anxiety, agitation and memory loss are recurring symptoms of advanced dementia, so rather than placing the onus on an individual to remember past realities, we wondered whether it would prove more positive to provide an evocative soundscape of the natural world, without visual stimuli, where a person’s imagination could wander freely, and enjoy fact or fiction, in a peaceful listening experience.
With this in mind, the concept of a therapeutic rocking chair evolved, and was partly in response to Pete Bennett’s brilliant Resonant Bits harmonic user interface. This app triggers sound content on an iPhone or an iPad using a kind of rocking movement from simple subtle gestures and a slow meditative motion response. In his research, Pete asks:
How can interfaces support slow and meditative interaction in a fast paced world? How would it feel to be able to ‘tune in’ and interact directly with digital ‘bits’ of data?
Thinking about the meditative field recordings that I had already captured from nature, and wanting to combine these with Pete’s app to create a calming user experience and interaction, the traditional rocking chair seemed like an appropriate medium for a therapeutic listening experience, simply by embedding some speakers in the headrests. Rocking chairs can be a familiar item of furniture for many older people, the type of chair which provides an opportunity to dwell, ponder and relax, with its motion considered to be very comforting. (Perhaps why babies and young children are typically rocked to sleep).
In essence, this therapeutic rocking chair would play calming, comforting sound content triggered by the rocking motion. The soundscapes of nature, poetry or music would fade away and change track as the rocking motion stops and starts again, making the interaction as simple and intuitive as possible. (The chair would be silent when it was not moving). Here’s a quick demo, using just the app on an iPhone:
The rocking chair would offer this spontaneous and relaxing listening experience through hidden stereo speakers in the headrests, connected to the Harmonic User Interface app on an iPhone.
Alongside this concept development, what a bonus it was to discover a medical study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias which cites the psychosocial and physical benefits for dementia patients who regularly rock in a platform rocking chair:
The US study used traditional platform rocking chairs and their rocking motion alone as a form of therapy, which researchers found could improve balance, muscle tone, emotional well-being, and resulted in a reduction in the number of requests for medication to treat aches and pains in the majority of older people they tested.
If such results could be achieved with support and persistence, using a traditional piece of furniture, what more might we be able to offer residents by embedding therapeutic sounds triggered by the rocking motion? One of our key aims on the Tangible Memories project is to develop assistive technologies that enhance the social, personal and emotional well-being of older people, in addition to addressing their physical needs.
So I set to work, hacking an existing platform rocking chair in order to integrate stereo speakers into the headrests and create a quick iteration of our initial prototype so we could test the idea and get it working:
The next step required uploading an adapted version of Pete’s Harmonic User Interface app (currently called ‘SoundChair’) to my iPhone and then adding the sound content via iTunes.
The app can play any m4a, mp3 or aac file which is triggered by the rocking movement.
In addition to the sounds of nature, I’ve added other content known to be beneficial for dementia patients, which includes the rhythmic repetition of poetry, as well as classical music. Here are a few examples to give a flavour:
‘Sailing By’, Radio 4 shipping forecast theme:
The sound of waves on the seashore:
‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth:
Next, the speakers were crudely connected to a battery power pack and my iPhone….
As the augmented reality develops for the interactive books and app, Stand + Stare have been working with talented illustrator Hugh Cowling, to produce a series of beautiful shell drawings that trigger audio stories when they are scanned, functioning in a similar way to a QR code.
Here are some of Hugh’s wonderful illustrations, much more aesthetically appealing and poetic than a typical QR code:
Alongside the application of these drawings to the book/app prototypes, we are also exploring their potential for use on fabrics and textiles, while textured surfaces and soft objects such as cushions are considered to have some therapeutic uses for those living with dementia. Here are some examples of early tests using hand printed methods on cotton:
and a digitally printed version, on a tactile faux suede:
Evolving partly from the ButtonTuner musical cushion, we look forward to testing out the tech for these pillow cases and cushion covers, as well as developing the user experience.
The Tangible Memories team was delighted to hear news today that our work-in-progress paper ‘TopoTiles: Storytelling in Care Homes with Topographic Tangibles’ has been accepted into CHI 2015, the Human Computer Interaction conference, to be held in Seoul later this year.
Here’s more about this international HCI event, which is on the theme of ‘Crossings’, appropriate to our interdisciplinary project: http://chi2015.acm.org
Recently, we held a group session with residents that focused on the theme of favourite walks. For some of the older people we are working with, access to the outdoors represents a physical challenge or a rare treat, while the residents of this particular assisted living location generally enjoy a much greater level of independence and freedom to go outside.
The participants in this lively group discussion came prepared with a significant walk in mind from any point in their lives, and seemed to relish sharing their experiences about a walk, or pattern of walks, that had memorable meaning. One gentleman remembered the familiarity of his walk to infant school, made suddenly dramatic one day in 1927, when a bi-plane landed in a field next to the primary school. This was the first aeroplane he had ever seen. One lady took the opportunity to advertise a sponsored walk she had planned for the very next day, to raise money in aid of the resident’s activity fund. She was hoping to make two circuits around the building where the group live, but promised that if she could get a skateboard, she would be able to make it three! There were reminiscences about walks in Blaise Castle and the Hamlet, that seemed ‘like walking in a fairyland’, while others fondly recalled walks with a husband or wife amongst snowdrops or bluebells in the Springtime. For another lady, walking on land was significant in itself, as she and her family had lived on board a boat and her daughter had learnt to walk while they were at sea.
One of the outcomes of this session, exploring favourite walks and nearby locations, was the desire to revisit some of these places in real life, in order to re-experience them and have the chance of uncovering more distant memories. Adopting the more curatorial approach on offer (see post re TopoTiles), the group decided that they would enjoy visiting the MShed, a local museum about Bristol, its places, people and their stories, which effectively seemed to represent several of the locations that they had been discussing.
As a result, one blustery cold morning, we gathered into a minibus and travelled to Bristol’s harbourside to explore the MShed, and the many intriguing objects on display there.
In addition to the curated exhibitions that stretched across three floors of the museum and were complemented by wintery harbourside views, the residents particularly enjoyed a guided tour of the museum’s stores, known as the LShed.
Behind-the-scenes, in a dimly-lit warehouse, these uncurated and large-scale artefacts seemed all the more enticing somehow, stacked on shelving, without labels or glass cases, or peeking out from underneath plastic sheeting and behind cupboard doors.
In this unordered space, it felt as if there was more to discover in a serendipitous way, and this led to a greater number of memories being evoked for the residents, in response to the historic objects they observed among the aisles of storage.
The spontaneous discovery and revelation of items within the LShed collections seemed to vividly reflect the way in which we store our memories, as well as the manner in which we tend to recall them. Jumbled and disorderly, sometimes hidden from view, our past is usually recollected in a non-linear fashion, leaping from one event to another, bounding across years and back again.
The visit to the MShed and LShed, and the stories which the day evoked, were captured through a series of photographic images and sound recordings. Initially, the residents have chosen to use this material in a temporary exhibition in one of the communal living areas at their home:
Five images were selected from the museum visit, with accompanying sound recordings that related to the objects in the photos.
Using three push-button sound systems already available in the foyer, we recorded short excerpts of narrative, into each of the three units:
Here is an example, featuring one of the LShed mangles:
The residents now have further plans to share different aspects of their museum visit, including a slideshow for friends and neighbours (to be held later this month) and the suggestion of a ‘virtual museum’ to be installed at the home. This would involve using some of the images of the objects in store, within the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, so that those residents who are physically unable to travel to the museum itself, might be able to enjoy a similar, serendipitous discovery of the LShed and reminisce around the artefacts for themselves.
Over the past few months, we have been seeking to develop the group making sessions in another of the care homes, working alongside residents to co-produce proxy objects and ‘objects of exchange’ as design prototypes that capture and represent personal and collective stories.
Evolving from the creative workshops where residents produced ‘tokens of value’ – inscribing wax tablets with a representation of significant memories that were later cast into bronze – we initially offered the same materials and making-based approach to residents of the second care home. We suggested that these tokens could then be exchanged amongst the group with the stories they represented (with or without embedded technologies), thus sharing residents’ experiences with each other and strengthening the home’s community in the process, using these unique personalised objects as a focus.
To begin with, we proposed a theme of ‘favourite walks’ as a topic and trigger for creative making. Participants were asked to recall a memorable route in advance of the sessions, giving them time to reflect on any walk they chose to remember. The aim was then to find the location on the iPad using Google Street View for a virtual visit, and identify it using OS maps online, before tracing over the route, and inscribing a line drawing of the walk onto one of the prepared wax hexagons, ready for casting:
The reaction to this activity was mixed. The theme proved successful and generated one of the most animated and dynamic discussions that had taken place during the project. However, this success came at the cost of participants not engaging with the tools, materials or other creative processes on offer.
These sessions were subsequently adapted in order to introduce a more curatorial method into the process of co-production. One outcome of the favourite walks theme was some lively story-swopping between the residents, about local Bristol landmarks and historic places of interest. Rather than the residents inscribing the wax hexagons with these walking routes by hand, they gave us permission instead, to transform the subjects of their conversations into miniature topographies of the various locations discussed. We used Autodesk Fusion modelling software and a milling machine to achieve a more tactile, 3D topographic hexagon, and laser etching to transpose detailed photographic images of the landmarks into 2D. These hexagonal tiles representing miniature topographies became known as ‘TopoTiles’:
The series of TopoTiles has been shared with small groups of residents, and tested as narrative prompts, tangible user interfaces designed to aid reminiscence and storytelling. Some of our research questions around these manufactured artefacts include:
How can landscape tangibles be used as proxy objects, standing in for landscape and objects unavailable to the storyteller?
Can miniature landscapes aid recollection and storytelling through embodied interaction?
Are ambiguous depictions conducive to more diverse use in storytelling, and can topographic tangibles encourage inclusivity in group sharing situations?
While the TopoTiles represent places of personal significance to the residents, (either specific or ambiguous), the tessellation of these miniature topographies seems to symbolise the network of shared histories across the care home, connecting the individual’s experience with their immediate community, united by a common encounter in the landscape.
The Tangible Memories team recently had the pleasure of hosting a tea party in each of the three care homes where we are currently working.
This was a great opportunity to celebrate the project so far and to share some of the design prototypes that we have been developing with the residents over the past few months. Alongside the wonderful live music, tea, cakes, flowers and bunting, there were technology demonstrations, and lots of play testing with the project’s design objects and ideas.
For example, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset was a novelty for virtual travel experiences, such as the aerial views provided by a virtual hot-air balloon ride:
Another popular object was ‘ButtonTuner’, the musical cushion, which triggered an animated session of singing along to ‘Singing in the Rain’:
All the residents and the care staff too, enjoyed the series of co-produced interactive books, and were able to read the stories and hear the tales of different people’s life experiences, even those from other care homes:
Exploring the use of pre-decimal currency in one of the homes caring for people with dementia was successful too. After giving out purses full of threepenny coins to the residents, we explained that just for fun, the ‘thrupenny bits’ could be exchanged for a drink and cake of their choice:
On the party menus, tea and cake cost 6d, the same price as in 1942. There was some mental arithmetic recalled in the counting, and whole Battenbergs were even exchanged for pooled sums of money!
Alongside the reminiscing of tea and cakes shared in the past and the stories evoked, it was very poignant to observe the residents’ responses to the coins, for a group of people who no longer have access to, or need to use cash in their current circumstances. Some said they were so pleased to have something to give to their grandchildren when the family next visited, comments perhaps linked to years of giving coins as pocket money. Others were fascinated by the thrupenny pieces themselves, holding them, playing with them, seeming to dwell on the tactile experience of the familiar weight, feel and sound of the coins in their hands, secured with the satisfying snap of the purse clip. It seemed as if the purses and the pre-decimal tokens became a new acquisition, all the more coveted and treasured in an environment where people have few possessions, with little practical need for material objects. The game of exchanging old money for tea party treats (while residents were able to keep both at the end of the afternoon) was, in the words of one humorous resident: ‘not devious, just crafty’!
Recently we have been exploring the theme of money with a group of care home residents who are suffering from the advanced stages of dementia.
With Gill Roberts from Alive! Activities, a collection of pre-decimal coins have provided a tangible set of tokens around which the residents have been able to reminisce. Stories have emerged about how much you used to be able to buy with a ‘thrupenny bit’ or a sixpence, and what you might have chosen to spend your pocket money on as a child. (Favourites included toffee apples, ice-cream, and a ride on the neighbour’s bicycle). The subject of wages also evoked familiar memories about saving or spending, about the price of bread and the cost of a weekly shop.
As a team, we have been interested in the capacity of money to provide the individual with a certain agency, where both cash and independence are often absent in the care home environment. Equally, I have been struck by the commonality of earning, using and exchanging money as a singularly unifying experience. While the presence or absence of money in our lives is usually divisive, the physical sensation of coins in our hands, given or received in exchange for goods or services, is instantly recognisable and communal. Money is a bond after all.
The residents also seemed to enjoy the money-themed music, singing along with Bing Crosby to ‘Pennies from Heaven’, with Tommy Steele for ‘We’re in the Money’ and accompanying Doris Day on ‘Three coins in the fountain’.
During our next visit we will be hosting a tea party and providing the residents with purses of threepenny coins, each of which they will be able to exchange for a choice of tasty treats on a pre-decimalised tea-time menu. I’m intrigued to find out what a cup of tea used to cost in 1942!
The first series of art workshops, where we have been working with residents from a care home to create new images and objects, each capturing a significant memory, seem to have been very much enjoyed by the participants.
Some of the paintings from the early sessions have been framed and shown at the recent Connected Communities conference in Cardiff.
One resident has a fond and vivid memory of periwinkle flowers which grew profusely in her childhood garden, and so it was this enduring image that she chose to reproduce in both watercolour (above) and scribe into the surface of casting wax (below). The wax was a wholly new material to her, but she was keen to experiment and interested to hear that it could be cast into bronze, by making a rubber mould from her original work.
When I showed D the resulting bronze cast of her artwork, she was visibly delighted, and amazed that she could have produced something that looked, in her words, ‘so expensive’. In bronze, the cherished memory now has a permanence that will last beyond the fleeting moment of remembering. As I was leaving, D made a comment that seemed to support the purpose of the entire project:
‘It’s a good idea this [project], you tell them that. It’s really got me thinking. The trouble is you get so old and you think you’ve forgotten everything, all these things – but you haven’t. The memories just need fishing out.’
Hopefully as a team, through these art workshops and the many other creative approaches, we can continue to assist the residents in ‘fishing out’ their memories, which may otherwise have drifted away.
In the book, Art as Therapy, the authors Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, go some way to echoing D’s comment:
‘We’re bad at remembering things. Our minds are troublingly liable to lose important information, of both a factual and a sensory kind. […] Art helps us to accomplish a task that is of central importance in our lives: to hold on to things we love when they are gone.’
The writers also point out that: ‘Art can be a tool, and we need to focus more clearly on what kind of tool it is – and what good it can do for us’.
The collection of fragmented objects (below) have proved extremely useful and fascinating as a set of tools for evoking memories and stories, functioning as a kind of 3D collage, where each artefact recalls something different for each individual:
In the image above, there are two RFID tags, on either side of the group of objects, and as a team, we are considering methods by which these ‘art tools’ or objects, could be augmented using near-field communication technology, in order to add a layer of story content to each item.
By exploring these digital technology options, we are, to a certain extent, seeking to ‘add value’ to some of the objects with which we are working. This has inevitably led to broader discussions about value, both the inherent and tangible value of collectable family heirlooms for example, as well as the sentimental value often attached to more personal possessions and the memories associated with them.
While prevailing concepts of the word value tend to centre around money and finance, I began to think about the significant absence of currency in the care home environment. Cash is not usually required, as the residents have nothing to spend it on in their immediate everyday surroundings, and cannot easily go out into the community without prior arrangement and support. The lack of monetary exchanges that are so integral to our daily social encounters for the greater part of our lives, are suddenly missing. Paradoxically however, the high and rising cost of care provision needs an increasing volume of financial investment to sustain it.
With money comes agency and choice, and a level of empowerment and confidence widely recognized as important for any individual. Equally, art has been identified as having a capacity for agency in a book called Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age, producedby the London Art in Health Forum and the Baring Foundation:
‘Children and young people want to be thought older than they are because with adulthood comes agency – the ability to act autonomously in the world, to make our own decisions, to pursue our desires, to write our own story. And it is the loss of agency, above all through mental incapacity, that is most feared as old age advances…..
But a capacity to create…is in all human beings, including those who do nothing to develop it after primary school. Art is a capacity for agency that….can flourish, indeed, in old age and help preserve individuality and autonomy to the very end.’
As a result of both art and money being identified means of increasing autonomy, this week I will be facilitating a type of coin-making workshop with the residents from another of the care homes, before we begin to experiment with these unique objects of value in some system of exchange, a kind of micro-currency within the care home environment.
Much like D’s wax cast into bronze, the residents can start by drawing a significant memory or symbol of something important to them, into the surface of a wax hexagonal shape. The smallest ‘coin blank’ starts at similar size to the 5 pence piece, while a much larger hexagon is available for more short-sighted participants or those with dexterity issues.
Next month, in a care home where the majority of residents are suffering from the advanced stages of dementia, we will also begin experimenting with pre-decimal money, in the form of the ‘thrupenny bit’ or threepenny coin. Tim Lloyd-Yeates, Director of Alive! Activities reminded the team that in the midst of memory-loss, the strongest recurring memories are those which we have experienced between the ages of 10 and 30 years old. For most of the care home residents, this would mean vivid recollections of using pre-decimal money.
Alongside these ideas of introducing a micro-currency into the care home environment, this Radio 4 programme explored a really interesting form of alternative currency, applied to care of the elderly in Japan:
The programme summary raises some crucial questions:
The UK, like many countries, faces the problems of an increasingly ageing society. The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise by 23% from 10.3 million in 2010 to 16.9 million by 2035. How can we provide and pay for their care?
Japan is at the forefront of the ageing crisis, with the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world. By 2030, almost a third of the population will be 65 or older. At the same time the overall population is shrinking, leaving fewer young working people to shoulder the burden of paying for care for the elderly.
One creative response to this challenge at local level has been a cash-less system of time-banking. Under the fureai kippu system, individuals donate time to looking after the elderly, and earn credits which they can – in theory at least – “cash in” later for their own care, or transfer to elderly relatives in other parts of the country.
Could something similar work here, or do we have very different attitudes to community and volunteering? Who would benefit from such a cash-less scheme, and who might lose out? Could it be scaled up to meet the escalating needs of a growing elderly population?
Ultimately, whether it is time or money, art objects or memories that we will be exchanging in the care home of the future, new ways of thinking about ageing are vital now, in addition to providing a sustainable and personalised means of support for everyone.
The chance to work closely with artist and art workshop leader, Deborah Feiler, from Alive! Activities was a great opportunity to learn more about the potential of creative processes to elicit memories and personal stories from residents in a care home setting.
Starting with a series of three workshop sessions, Deborah and I were helpfully given a research question to frame our creative explorations with the residents: Can older people make objects which are meaningful to them? Some other questions we also hoped to consider included: Does a story have to be told with words? Can art express a memory? Can a collection of objects work together to express a memory? How can the creative process contribute to a better understanding of the individual, in a care home setting?