Reminiscence Room

With Jayne Wallace Newcastle University Culture Lab for Roseberry Park in Middlesbrough

Culture Lab and the SiDe Project work on some amazing projects, often with a heavy slant on improving patient welfare in healthcare. They incorporate futuristic "just on the horizon" technologies with everyday objects to interact with users in a seamless way.

Jayne Wallace was working on this particular project - the Reminiscence Room - to help ease the traumatic experience of severe dementia patients being left alone after a family visit.

Her research proves that if one can access a part of the patient's memory from before the dementia took hold then they can feel much more safe and recognise the familiar.

To achieve this each patient is given an RFID tag which triggers a television set to start playing images, film and sound that is relevant to them personally and is supplied by the family.

In addition, a special cabinet contains memory globes which also contain RFID tags which, when inserted into the vinyl doily on the set, trigger more general audio scapes and scenes which would appeal to anyone from their generation. The problem with her research was that the patients did not recognise a modern flat-screen TV as what it is. All they see is a black rectangle which bears no resemblance to the televisions of their youth.

We were therefore enlisted to design a retrospective television cabinet with a modern twist. We studied many aspects which would make the set appealing to the patients - typical forms sets took from that era, the colours which are still the most visible to anyone with diminishing eyesight, and incorporated them into this unusual piece.

We also designed the cabinet for the memory globes. This was designed to resemble a traditional sweet shop which is rich, appealing and inviting to be explored.

An anecdotal element - when we were fitting the pieces, a sceptical orderly from the hospital came up to us and said "I'll give that thing 5 minutes before one of them rips it off the wall." (The patients can sadly get quite frustrated and sometimes violent when losing touch with their surroundings).

Just then, as we stepped back from hanging the cabinet, a patient shuffled up to it and we stepped back tentatively to see what he would do. To our delight, he pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and began to polish the cabinet.

The project has been an overwhelming success and the staff (sceptical or otherwise) all report that the system is a huge benefit to staff, patients and relatives and is in almost constant use. Jayne has also presented the project at many medical seminars and has had many inquiries from hospitals around the world interested in introducing this fantastic aid.