A team of researchers in Scotland has developed CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid). CIRCA comprises a simple touch-screen with easy-to-follow instructions that require no IT competence. When switched on, it displays a choice of three random categories (entertainment, local life etc). Selecting a category, the user is given a choice of 'music', 'photo' or 'video'. These in turn call up images, video or sound clips (e.g. of movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart) from a database, acting as a memory trigger and conversation prompt. A 'stop and talk' button allows the system to be frozen at any point.

Because sufferer and carer sit side by side in front of the screen, encouraging the sense of a shared experience, and because the system relies on a touch screen, rather than a mouse or keyboard, the carer is not seen as being 'in control'. Furthermore, as the sufferer can be prompted to operate the system themselves, they feel less dependent on their carer. The result is a more positive, relaxed social experience than can be achieved using other memory-prompting reminiscence packages currently available.

During development, CIRCA was tested on 40 dementia sufferers in daycare, nursing home and family situations. The results were very encouraging, with many carers reporting that sufferers seemed like their 'old self'. CIRCA exploits the fact that, while dementia sufferers find it hard to recall recent events, longer-term memory is less affected by their condition.

CIRCA could become available on the market in 2-3 years. The research team is now looking at whether it could also be used for people with learning disabilities or head injuries.

MEDICA.de; Source: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council