Our film summing up the project is now uploaded onto the AHRC YouTube Channel. Please do have a look and let us know what you think.
You can watch it here: Tangible Memories Film
Our film summing up the project is now uploaded onto the AHRC YouTube Channel. Please do have a look and let us know what you think.
You can watch it here: Tangible Memories Film
We’re delighted that some of our work will feature at the V & A Digital Design weekend at the end of this month. It should be a great weekend as the V & A suggest:
‘Now in it’s fifth year, the V&A Digital Design Weekend brings together artists, designers, engineers and scientists celebrating the intersections of art, design and technology. Designers and artists will take over the Museum with pop up installations, open workshops, labs and family-friendly activities taking place around the building, exploring themes of civic design, sustainability and collaborative making.’
Sign up here:
Thanks Sam for this great job – drawn on the day. With thanks to Nigel Pugh (photographer extraordinaire) for taking a photograph of it!
On 23 June I was lucky enough to be involved in the end of project conference or, more accurately, celebration for the Tangible Memories project at the University of Bristol. Most big projects which are funded by the big, official research councils, which are Government funding bodies, insist on a big day at the end when you tell the world about what you have been doing and how it will change the world. This project was run by Helen Manchester, who works in the Graduate School of Education at Bristol, and her lovely team, Pete and Seana.
The aim of the project is to design technology, or uses for existing technology to make life easier for older people. The idea is create opportunities for conversations between the residents in care homes, their carers, their relatives and each other, and to work with people with advanced dementia on memory projects. The memory work also helps older people to overcome feelings of unworthiness and being invisible.
I got involved via Bristol Quilters, when Helen asked me if I could round up a posse to make some cushions to hold small speakers so that people could listen to music and have the sensation of a soft cushion. This is the cushion in use:
The quilters, of course, rose to the occasion magnificently, making prototypes, and on the day, showing people a variety of techniques to personalise their cushions.
I found myself needing to rustle up three cushions before the day with very little time as I had had a fantastic weekend with my Danish family and hadn’t had an opportunity to make anything. I had a flash of inspiration and came up with a no-sew cushion, which I think I must have seen in a magazine somewhere. So, I glued on the pocket for the technology with a hot-glue gun, and then wrapped the pad in a vintage silk scarf which I knotted on the front. They look surprisingly good. I had been saving the scarves to make a shower curtain, and they had brilliant seventies designs and were mostly pure silk and so they looked rather sumptuous. I thought you could probably use a favourite scarf of the person you were making it for, and you could change it according to the season. I might hunt out some more and make some for myself. They are surprisingly cheap and easy to come by.
One of the exercises we did on the day was to think about the sort of care home we would like to have ourselves. It’s quite hard to think about this, but it did make me think what I would want. One of the themes of the day was loss – which objects do you choose to take with you and which do you choose to leave behind? Out of all this, I realised the importance of stash, space and studio. I would hate to have to leave my collections of things behind: fabric, beads, books, sketchbooks, sewing machines, art materials, dolls, pens… I like having the contacts and the networks I have – my personal space in which I can make things with a certain ease. I also love having a dedicated space to do my work in – especially since the big clear-up. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all this to sit round watching endless game shows on the tv.
So, I enjoyed watching everyone pile in for the making session, and I really loved playing with the technology, including the virtual reality headsets, but a main and unexpected outcome for me was realising what I have and what I would miss.
Thanks to Ann and the Bristol Quilters for all their help on the day – everyone wanted to make a cushion to take home with them! You can read more like this on Ann’s Blog
There are many things I’d do differently if I started the Tangible Memories project again tomorrow. Perhaps the most important thing I’d change however would be ensuring that we worked closely with care staff from the beginning. Our ‘gatekeepers’ were often senior managers who agreed to be involved, residents were asked if they wanted to be involved and were free to say no but care staff were never really approached at the beginning. In fact I think our focus on co-designing with residents obscured somewhat the need to work with care staff. Although contracts were signed with each home in which they agreed a member of care staff would be present in each of our sessions due to pressures of work, absent colleagues and issues related to what is considered to be ‘care work’ and what is not this very rarely happened.
In the last 6 months or so we’ve really stepped up our work with care home staff and I’ve met with managers frequently to make sure that the technologies we leave with them at the end of the project aren’t left on a shelf gathering dust. There are real challenges for managers in making time for care staff to do the one to one and group work with residents that we’re advocating for. This throws up all kinds of questions about what ‘care’ means and what the expectations are of someone who works as a carer in a residential home for older people.
In light of our realization of the importance of involving and working closely with care staff ‘on the ground’ we have been working with Alive! activities to design a process of working alongside care staff to introduce them to one of our prototypes – an app for storytelling. Last week up to 3 members of staff from each of our care homes came down to the university to be introduced to some of the techniques they might use.
Today Gill Roberts from Alive! activities and myself visited one of our settings to meet with care staff who had been given an ipad to help us test out our prototype storytelling app. Although the 3 members of staff had gone away from our session at the University fired up and ready to try the app with residents we found when we arrived that they’d not managed to find time to test the app with residents and they’d had various problems with using the ipad as well as with feeling confident enough to approach a resident to ask them to speak about their lives. Challenges were expressed and noted as, for instance: What questions can you ask? How do you invite residents to speak? How do you listen carefully to residents being comfortable with silence and allowing time for thought? How might you enable residents to use the technology themselves if they are able?
There is much work to be done here as we approach the end of the grant. Ensuring we do this collaboratively with care staff and residents will be the key to sustainability of the co-designed technologies in the care home settings.
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:
Read the findings online here: Rocking chair therapy
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….
…..and we’re ready to test it out!
Gather a shell from the strewn beach
And listen at its lips: they sigh
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea’s speech.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Sea-Limits, (1919)
After discussing and trying out various possibilities for the illustrations, we decided that sea shells (particularly conch shells) were the perfect visual metaphor for the Tangible Memories project and an ideal vehicle to trigger audio clips within the book, app or any other surface that they may appear on. You hold a shell to your ear and listen to the memory of the sea, just as memories are held within books. The rich visual qualities and the variation of different types of shell are similar to a person’s life and the memories that are collected over time, this idea became more prominent the more I studied the shells and realised just how intricate and complex they were!
Visiting the care homes and meeting the residents and carers was an integral part of this project for me. I was able to experience the fundamental notion of the Tangible Memories project first-hand; communication and the sharing and recording of memories. The process of recording people’s memories and stories, whether it be through writing, taking a photo or audio recording engages both the resident and the listener. Listening to people’s stories and memories was hugely inspirational and being able to preserve these memories in a tangible way is fantastic! I am delighted that I was able to contribute to this project.
As a Third Year University of Bristol Drama and Film Student coming to the end of my degree, I believed I possessed a certain level of comprehension with regards to the variety of ways Theatre and Film exists in and aids the community. Perhaps this assumption subsequently forced me to search for something more diverse and distinctive in my placement opportunity, attracting me to Stand and Stare and specifically their Tangible Memories project. This enticement stems from my desire to broaden my knowledge about theatre before I complete my time at university.
I have been working with Stand and Stare for eight weeks now and have been fortunate enough to observe how far the project has progressed even in this short amount of time, this is testament to the passionate team working enthusiastically and consistently to achieve their aims.
A key creative progression that has taken place over the past eight weeks is the inception and the execution of creating distinctive illustrations to act in the same way QR codes use image recognition. These illustrations will trigger the audio in the books. They needed to be universal enough so they could encapsulate any story but distinctive enough to be observed as separate images. Thematically, a collection of shells were ideal as they represent the activity of listening and the image itself triggers a fond memory of playing on the beach as a child; using shells to listen to the sea.
I truly appreciate that I have been lucky enough to be utilised in all areas of Tangible Memories. Undeniably the most enlightening aspects of assisting with this project are the visits to Blaise Weston Court and Stokeleigh Lodge. Meeting the residents, discussing their stories and observing the effect the Tangible Memories books have on these two care homes is a rewarding experience. A person’s memory is undeniably unique, being able to listen to a diary of their life and being trusted enough by the person that they are willing to share these tales with you, is truly an engaging activity. My comprehension of the project in the early stages was assisted significantly by meeting a variety of people from both homes who were all contributing to the project in a diversity of ways. All were at different stages in terms of starting out, completing or editing either individual books or books for the home consisting of memories recorded by a selection of residents. After multiple trips you begin to devise a routine to capture the most intriguing and fascinating memories shared by the residents; I found that using photos either from their possessions or sourcing them on the internet lead to stimulating conversations. Whether it is an account of the life of a Lancaster Bomber Pilot Engineer, how they first met their spouse, the preparation and upkeep that goes into being a beekeeper, a fond story about their children or the crude conditions of the boys school toilets in the 1920s, I have truly learnt a lot from being privileged enough to listen to and record these fascinating memoirs.
Currently I am half way into my placement and although these eight weeks seemed to have flown by, the amount I have learnt already is innumerable. I have come to understand that there are many strands of theatrical practice that exist outside of the boundaries of a theatre and my work with Stand and Stare has fortified this view. My role in this project so far has only made me more excited for what is to come. Hearing the ways in which the books have been used already (as stated by one resident who reported that her book initiated a communal reading on Christmas afternoon by the whole family), emphasises that the book isn’t just a product, it is an experience that is evidently having a positive effect on all involved.
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.