This healthcare work addresses the needs of the growing population of people in care homes. The work takes a novel approach to this area by focusing on care givers, addressing the need to facilitate conversations between care staff and residents. For residents with communication difficulties, such as those that arise from late stage Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, it is difficult for care staff, giving their limited time and skills, to initiate conversations with such residents.
The Portrait system was designed from the perspective of care staff workers. It provides an easy to use and quick means of getting information about the lives of residents before they entered the care home. In short, it allows care staff to know who the people are. The main objective of the Portrait project has been to research and develop software that could act as a communication bridge between carers and people with dementia through the use of simple but effective ‘Portraits’. To date, much research and several commercial offerings have aimed at memory books and reminiscence therapy for people with dementia. Like our Portrait software, many of these use multimedia software. While these memory tools might be shared with care staff, none were specifically designed to meet the needs of care staff. Portrait is unique in terms of specifically targeting the work schedules and usability needs of care staff.
The Portrait system consists of multimedia portraits of each resident presented on an easily and quickly accessible touch-screen interface. Each portrait contains information about the person’s key life events, family, important things to know, preferences, and hobbies and interests. It is designed so that care staff can use the system alone in a setting such as a work room and find interesting information about a person in approximately three minutes. It is not intended to be used as an electronic storybook or to be used with the individual in the portrait. However, it may assist care staff in stimulating conversation and discussions with the person about the events outlined in his/her portrait.
This research project impacts society by being a part of the welcome trend of moving away from task-based care to person centred care. Dementia creates a financial cost to the UK of £17 billion a year. This research aims to help staff see the whole person not just the illness and treat the person as an individual not simply a set of needs to service.
Studies undertaken during the project have examined the extended use of Portrait in a Care Home facility (Balhousie Care Group) and successful results have led to a number of other care homes requesting that Portrait be extended to their facilities. Commercialisation through companies delivering dementia related services is also being discussed.