Accessible touchscreen apps for people living with dementia

08 Sep 2016

Phil Joddrell, AcTo Dementia project

The AcTo Dementia project is focused on improving the accessibility of touchscreen apps for people with dementia. In order to achieve this, we are collaborating with people living with dementia, professional & informal caregivers and app developers.

Facilitating independent activity has been highlighted as a research priority in dementia care as it can improve mental wellbeing and reduce the need for pharmaceutical interventions. Technology has the potential to deliver such activity, and devices featuring touchscreen interfaces are considered to be intuitive and therefore ideally suited for use by people with a diagnosis of dementia. Furthermore, there is growing evidence to support the application of touchscreen tablet computers in this context.

The challenge is in identifying suitable and accessible apps on these devices from the vast range available. Original development is one option, but the benefit to improving digital access to existing apps is that there is much greater choice and availability from the outset and any risk of stigmatisation through the development of condition-specific software is avoided.

In collaboration with colleagues at Rotterdam University, we conducted an evaluation of existing touchscreen apps with people with dementia living in care services. Participants were given the opportunity to choose from one of ten apps, and a preference was indicated for those involving familiar activities. This was further explored in a separate study by removing the element of choice and asking participants to independently try one of two apps, either involving a familiar activity or a novel activity. Under these conditions, participants level of enjoyment for both games was equally high. It was concluded that independent engagement with touchscreen apps by people living with dementia is possible; familiarity is not necessarily the only option when selecting apps; and there is great potential in the use of touchscreen activities for enjoyment.

In order to realise this potential, the AcTo Dementia project has four key objectives:

  • Identify key features within touchscreen apps that increase their accessibility for people with dementia
  • Develop an evidence-based framework that can be used to find the most accessible existing touchscreen apps for people with dementia
  • Work with app developers to improve the accessibility of existing apps for people with dementia
  • Share app recommendations with people with dementia and professional and family caregivers on a dedicated website

Accessibility Features

We conducted a literature review spanning 30 years of touchscreen use in studies involving people living with dementia to find out what had previously been learned about accessible design in this context. This information was combined with the outcomes of the video analysis from our own studies involving people living with dementia using apps on modern touchscreen tablet devices for independent activity.

App Selection Framework

With our new knowledge on accessibility features we created a method of identifying existing, dementia-friendly apps; our app selection framework. This framework has been used to identify more than 20 apps by myself and other researchers from the University of Sheffield and Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Canada, and has been evidenced as having strong inter-rater reliability.

Collaboration with Developers

We are in the process of collaborating with several app developers to improve the accessibility of their existing apps for people living with dementia. Currently the new dementia-friendly versions are being evaluated by participants in Sheffield, and it is hoped that they will be made publically available before the end of the year.


The primary focus of the AcTo Dementia website ( is to broaden the impact of this research through the publication of all of our recommendations for accessible touchscreen apps. The website has been designed to incorporate many accessibility guidelines, widening its access to as many people as possible. It is envisaged that the people who will find it the most useful are likely to be those in the earlier stages of dementia, professional and informal caregivers of a person with dementia, and other researchers or app developers with an interest in dementia care. In addition to app recommendations, the site also features support guides, a community forum and information relating to the supporting evidence.

Author Info

Phil is a researcher within the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH) at The University Of Sheffield. He has more than eight years’ experience working in the field of dementia care both in a clinical and research environment. Phil is currently studying for a PhD focusing on improving the accessibility of digital applications on everyday touchscreen technologies for people living with dementia.


Twitter: @actodementia