While video conferencing can be an effective tool for staying connected with loved ones and participating in activities we enjoy, some individuals living with dementia may encounter difficulties using this type of technology.
Over the past year, so many of us have transitioned to using online video communication platforms like Zoom and Skype on a weekly or even daily basis. While video conferencing can be an effective tool for staying connected with loved ones and participating in activities we enjoy, some individuals living with dementia may encounter difficulties using this type of technology.
In my own research, I have had to transition multiple arts-based interventions (including visual arts and music therapy) online via Zoom. As a result, I have developed emerging best practices to engage older adults living with dementia virtually.
Hide Non-video Participants: If participants have their cameras turned off, the Host/Co-host can hide their black box. This can be a beneficial strategy as it provides more space on the screen for the participants who do have their video cameras on, and ensures that participants are only looking at faces instead of empty squares, which may cause confusion.
Pinning and Spotlighting Features: Participants in a meeting can “Pin” any of the speakers. Once pinned, that specific participant will fill the entire screen for the person who has “pinned” them. The screens of the other participants will not change. If the Host/Co-host wants to ensure that everyone is looking at the same participant(s) at the same time, they can “Spotlight” that speaker, or even use the “Add Spotlight” option to spotlight multiple speakers at once for everyone. This can be very helpful when a lot of people are on the video call, as it eliminates the need for participants to visually search for the speaker.
Record Your Sessions: Many video conference platforms allow you to record your session and then share the recording via a link. Reviewing the recording at a later time may help people who were unable to process the information quickly enough at the time, or who may have forgotten what was shared and would like a reminder of the session content. Care partners can also watch the recordings to support the activities of individuals living with dementia.
Personalized Display Names: Using an individual’s preferred name or nickname may help them recognize their name if the facilitator or another participant calls on them. This may result in increased comfort with the technology and stronger feelings of rapport and camaraderie amongst the participants.
Managing the Mute Function: Having many people speaking at once can be overwhelming, especially if there is background noise at one location. It may be helpful to ask participants to mute themselves at certain times in the session, especially if they are away from their screen (e.g., at break time). The Host/Co-host also have the option to mute others. Participants may forget that they are muted as they are begin speaking, and may not remember how to unmute themselves. The Host/Co-host can prompt the individual speaker to unmute themselves, or do it for them.
Introductions when Appearing on Screen: It can be disconcerting for participants, especially individuals living with dementia, to have new people suddenly appear in the session without warning once it has begun. If you are joining the call midway through, consider asking someone else on the call to preface your appearance: “Okay everyone, it looks like Jim is arriving now. Look everyone, Jim is here on our screen! Hi Jim!”. In this way, all participants will be oriented to the new participant or facilitator, and you will have an opportunity to share this person’s name a few times outloud.
Dr. Kate Dupuis, PhD., C.Psych., is a clinical neuropsychologist and a researcher whose work lies at the intersection of arts, health and aging and an Editorial Advisory Board member for Dementia Connections. In her research, she seeks to identify the potential personal and systemic barriers to participation in the arts, how we can facilitate arts engagement in older adults, and what the terms “being creative” or “artistic” mean to us as we age.
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