Bridging gaps in the design and implementation of socially assistive technologies for dementia care: the role of occupational therapy

Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol. 2024 Apr;19(3):595-603. doi: 10.1080/17483107.2022.2111610. Epub 2022 Aug 16.


Dementia is a global health challenge, and people living with dementia (PLWD) are especially susceptible to reduced engagement in meaningful occupations, including social participation. In the past few decades, socially assistive technologies continue to be developed amidst a rapidly evolving technological landscape to support the social health of PLWD and their caregivers. Examples include social robots, virtual reality, smart home technology, and various digital technologies, such as mobile applications for tablets and smartphones. Despite an increasing body of research and interest in this field, several gaps relating to the design and implementation process of socially assistive technologies continue to undermine their relevance for PLWD in daily life. In this paper, some of these gaps are highlighted and the role of occupational therapy in the design and implementation of socially assistive technology is presented. In the design process, occupational therapists are uniquely skilled to advise and advocate for the tailoring and personalisation of technology to address the occupational needs of PLWD. In the implementation of socially assistive technologies, occupational therapists are skilled to educate, train, and conduct ongoing evaluations with PLWD and their caregivers, to incorporate socially assistive technologies into their routine and daily lives. We recommend that occupational therapists should continue to be acquainted with such technologies through continuous professional development and educational curricula. Moreover, we highlight the necessary collaboration between occupational therapists, technology developers, and researchers to enhance the process of designing and implementing socially assistive technology, so that their relevance for PLWD and their caregivers can be maximised.Implications for rehabilitationDevelopers and designers of socially assistive technology should consider the disease trajectory of different types of dementia, as well as the different needs, abilities, preferences, occupations and routines of people living with dementia (PLWD) and/or their caregivers.Collaborations between technology developers, researchers, and occupational therapists should take place iteratively throughout the process of designing and implementing socially assistive technology to maximise their relevance and applicability for people living with dementia and their caregivers.To continue enhancing the current role of occupational therapy in socially assistive technology provision, occupational therapists should keep up to date with socially assistive technology that are being developed to support the social health of PLWD.

Keywords: Occupational therapy; dementia; design; digital technology; emerging technologies; implementation; smart home technology; social robots; socially assistive technology; virtual reality.

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers
  • Dementia*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Occupational Therapy*
  • Self-Help Devices*