Contextual; Stimulating Senses and Triggering Memories to the Future You

“With an ageing population, there is no doubt that the cases of dementia will rise and has been predicted by many leading experts. In 2015, there were 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. By 2025, this is predicted to increase to over a million and to double again in 2050.”

Words by CHLOE MAN

With the success of modern medicine comes an increase in the ageing population – people are getting older and living longer lives. “In mid-2017, in the UK there were just under 12 million people aged 65 and over, which was 2.2 million more than 2007” (Neil Park, 2018) and will undoubtedly rise. Population projections predict that “by mid-2041, there will be 3.2 million people aged 85 and over, which has doubled from 1.6 million in mid-2016” (Nash, 2017) but how is this going to affect us all?

Attention is immediately drawn to the future. With people living longer this results in a higher demand for care, and one of the major causes of “dependency among older people worldwide is dementia” (World Health Organisation, 2017). Dementia is one of the “leading disabilities in people over 65 in the UK” (Healthwatch, 2017). But what is dementia?

Dementia is a “syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning” (NHS, 2017) with symptoms from memory loss to lack of understanding and judgement, resulting in difficulty in carrying out daily activities (NHS, 2017). With an ageing population, there is no doubt that the cases of dementia will rise and has been predicted by many leading experts. In 2015, there were 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. By 2025, this is predicted to increase to over a million and to double again in 2050 (Alzheimer’s Research, 2015).

The care home’s activity schedule (Man, 2018)

There are several stages to dementia and unfortunately some people are unable to provide suitable care, resulting in decisions to send loved ones to care homes. Visiting a care home in North London, there was a relaxing environment with colourful walls and a busy and detailed events schedule. Speaking to the manager of the care home he mentioned “TV only shows the worst things” (Interview with Manager part 1, 2018). His mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s made him leave his accounting job to care for her full-time. He now connects with residents and families to ensure their loved ones are supported and cared for. There are different levels of dementia in his care home, so catering to the needs of each individual resident challenging yet integral. He explains how activities are essential to stimulate the memory. It is important to know what they used to do; gaining information through families, GP’s and previous places of interest and incorporating it into their activities. (Interview with Manager part 2, 2018). This highlights the importance of reminiscence and that “even if you remember a bit then that is a success.” (Interview with Manager part 2, 2018)

This is known as sensory stimulation, which has been noted to have a “significant effect on the wellbeing of people with dementia” (Dewing, 2009). Witnessing the activities in the care home from “Music to Movement” to “Bingo” you can see relationships growing, with residents as well as with carers.

The activities manager noted that the area of activities had been neglected until recently. She finds the job rewarding to see the transition of someone who “stared into space to engaging with various activities and other people in the home” (Interview with Activities Manager, 2018), demonstrating the importance of sensory stimulus. Music is a recurring element in the activities, reinforcing that it has a “powerful ability to elicit both memory and emotions” (Baird and Samson, 2015) and has been seen to “provide an important link to an individual’s past and a means of nonverbal communication with carers” (Baird and Samson, 2015). This is due to the musical memory being considered as partly independent from other memory systems” (Jacobsen et al., 2015).

Collection of films in the care home (Man, 2018)

A resident’s wife at the care home highlighted the importance of triggering memory through senses. Her husband used to be a bus driver, and now whenever he sees a bus, it triggers an element in his memory that motivates him to move. Another resident was “awakened” with the scent of his favourite meal cooked by his wife and the sight of his grandchildren. This is why the care home has a collection of black and white films to the latest Hollywood blockbusters, bringing residents together and allowing them to reminisce. Outside of the home, products and services like simple radio systems, organisations holding “Dementia friendly cinemas” and activities like “Singing for the brain” likewise aim to trigger reminiscence.

Developing dementia can be a frightening thought, though the reality of it can seem distant. Is there anything we can do differently knowing what we know now? The manager quoted “You need to understand when the problem is coming from afar, sorting the problem before it comes to you” (Interview with Manager part 1, 2018). What if we took this from the approach that we all knew we would be developing dementia?

Imagine these sensory stimuli combined into a product for your future self, that use senses to trigger memories. Where you can control the contents and what you want to remember. This ties with the person-centred care and understanding each individual’s past, as the memories are stored from the “past” us. A familiar concept of time capsules that we used to play with, but with a futuristic twist.

With today’s technology, people are creating memories using audio recordings, videos or photographs. Living in the present is important and we should treasure every moment. Now we must simultaneously prepare for the future. There are obstacles in our lives and dementia is likely one. Knowing this, we should design solutions that cater for us, “before the problem comes to us” (Interview with Manager part 1, 2018), before it is too late. This should be a system that is not inconvenient but work alongside our lifestyle, taking advantage of everything the digital age offers us.


Activities Manager. (2018) Interview with Activities Manager [Audio of Interview]. Available at:

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Baird, A. and Samson, S. (2015) ‘Music and dementia’, Progress in brain research, 217, pp. 207-235. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2014.11.028.

Dewing, J. (2009) ‘Caring for people with dementia: noise and light’, Nursing Older People, 21(5), pp. 34-38.

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Jacobsen, J., Stelzer, J., Fritz, T.,Hans, Chételat, G., La Joie, R. and Turner, R. (2015) ‘Why musical memory can be preserved in advanced Alzheimer’s disease’, Brain; a journal of neurology, 138(8), pp. 2438-2450. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv135 [doi].

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Man C. (2018a) Activities Schedule. Carehome. (Accessed: 24/10/18).

Man C. (2018b) Collection of films. Carehome. (Accessed: 24/10/18).

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Manager. (2018) Interview with Manager part 2 [Audio of Interview]. Available at:

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NHS (2017) About Dementia. Available at: (Accessed: 28/10/18).

Osman, S., Tischler, V. and Schneider, J. (2014) ‘‘Singing for the Brain’: A qualitative study exploring the health and well-being benefits of singing for people with dementia and their carers’.

Park, N. (2018) Population estimates for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2017. Available at: (Accessed: 28/10/18).

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