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ePAD: Computer-based Facilitation of Creative Expression Activities for Older Adults with Dementia

Keywords: Arts therapy, older adults with dementia, computer-based guidance, communication tool.

In collaboration with: School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo and Creative Arts Therapies Professional Group at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Overview of Research

Participating in creative activities has been shown to have beneficial effects on health, well-being and quality of life. The current aging population often encounter diseases and illnesses, both cognitive and physical, that prevent or limit peoples’ engagement in creative activities, such as painting and drawing. While current assistive devices benefit some situations, these tools do not adequately respond to the physical and cognitive needs of the older adult population especially in terms of enabling their participation in creative endeavours. Through environmental support, it may be possible to help these individuals participate more successfully and frequently in artistic activities.

The overall goal of this research is to develop a working computer-based tool to facilitate visual artistic expression (e.g. painting, drawing).

There are three phases in this study:

Phase One: Professional arts therapists across North America and the UK were invited to participate in a short online survey. The results from the survey will be used to gain a better understanding of the how arts therapists and their clients currently interact when performing creative expression activities as well as to determine what features of an assistive device would be useful to both therapists and clients.

- View a copy of the survey


Phase Two: Results from the survey distributed in Phase One will be used to inform a focus group of professional creative arts therapists and device designers. Feedback from the focus group will be incorporated into the design of two mocked-up prototype devices.


Phase Three: The efficacy of the two prototypes from Phase Two will be tested with older adults who have mild-to-moderate dementia and who participate in individual or group art therapy at their long-term care facility. These sessions will be facilitated by trained art therapists. The results from these trials will be used to build a final prototype that will be tested with a larger group of older adults diagnosed with dementia in a future study.


This study provided invaluable information that will determine the features and interaction modality of the prototype system that will be tested with older adults with dementia in a future study. The results of this research could enable older adults with cognitive deficits to successfully participate in meaningful artistic pursuits, which could in turn improve their sense of well-being and quality of life.

Related Publications

Mihailidis, A., Blunsden, S., Boger, J., Richards, B., Zutis, K., Young, L. and Hoey, J. (2010). Towards the Development of a Technology for Art Therapy and Dementia: Definition of Needs and Design Constraints. Arts in Psychotherapy, 37(4), 293-300.

Research Team

Alex Mihailidis, PhD, PEng (University of Toronto)

Jesse Hoey, PhD (University of Waterloo)

Dmitry Pyryeskin, MMath (Computer Science) Candidate (University of Waterloo)

Laurel Young, MMT, MTA (Music Therapist),  Professional Leader Creative Arts Therapies (SHSC)

Valerie Leuty, MSc Candidate (University of Toronto)

Jennifer Boger, MSc, PEng (University of Toronto)

Krists Zutis, MSc, (University of Dundee)


Everyday Technologies for Alzheimer Care (ETAC)