The Hi-Tech Table Helping Shaftesbury Residents Who Have Dementia

You’ll be invited to play with a new interactive games machine when Tricuro’s Shaftesbury Day Centre opens its doors on Wednesday (4th September). Alfred went to see how the latest technology provides more than just entertainment for Trinity Centre regulars.

Manager Wendy Bramble was beaming with pride when she showed me the interactive games machine. Overhead projectors beam realistic, colourful images and sequences onto a large table. The whole surface responds to touch and movement, transforming the furniture into a massive iPad style tablet.

This table can be helpful to clients who have early to mid-stage dementia. “The day service is provided for older people and we do specialise in dementia,” said Wendy. “It’s open for everybody, mainly from the local area of Shaftesbury, Gillingham and Sixpenny Handley. Some people walk in and some people use Dorset Council transport to come in,” she said.

Wendy Bramble (left) and Sandra Oram

Wendy knows that her regulars look forward to their Trinity Centre visits. “They spend a lot of their time at home on their own. They come here and they can socially interact with us all. I feel really good when people get involved. The table has really helped that. It gives us a place to sit around and discuss things and get to know people as well. It prompts questions that we might not normally ask.”

The table was glowing and changing colour as staff member, Sandra Oram, encouraged her guests to take a seat and choose a game. Selection made, the game started. “Squash the berries Alan, when it comes on,” advised Sandra. “Like that,” she said, as she slammed her hand onto the table to give Alan an idea of what he needed to do.

The table was now illuminated with brightly coloured, high definition cartoon fruit. They rapidly appeared and moved around the surface. “Smash them Carol!” Sandra shouted, as one of her clients slapped her hand onto the juicy-looking, fist-sized berry. It was a direct hit and the raspberry exploded with an audible and visual ‘splat’ effect. “We’ve got some eggs that you can catch and you make a cake at the end, too. There’s just endless things to do,” Sandra advised.

Alan and Joan splatting fruit

The next game involved balloons of different colours rising into vision. Intuitively, the clients knew what to do. Who can resist popping a balloon? Sandra picked up the controlling handset, which looked like a big version of a Sky TV remote. She flicked through the various games and the table changed in time with her scrolling. We must have seen hundreds of games and settings before Sandra settled on a countryside scene of farm animals on a rolling hilly landscape, not dissimilar to North Dorset. Pastoral background music began playing, as grunts and bleats punctuated the soundtrack.

Joan attends every day. She told me that the table had made her visits more fun. As cartoon animals started walking around the table top, Joan saw a pig and exclaimed, “dinner!” which made everyone laugh.

Sandra flicked the handset and the table turned into a giant glockenspiel. “If you tap it, it makes a sound. Can you tap it for me, Alan, please?” she asked, as he started patting the table to play a tune. At another click of the handset, we were sitting in front of a virtual piano. It is engaging, but Sandra says her clients aren’t like teenagers addicted to their Xboxes. They know when they have had enough.

Alan plays a virtual glockenspiel

“We usually pack it up when we have afternoon tea. Then everybody goes home afterwards. It’s usually on most of the day, so people can dip in and out of it, if they want to. It’s just nice to have a bit of relaxing music,” Sandra said. “When you get anybody who is a little bit fraught or a little bit anxious, you put this on and it just totally calms everybody down. It is just absolutely amazing.”

Some of the games involve gentle exercise. One setting makes leaves appear on the table and players must adopt a sweeping action to brush them away. “When they had all gone home one day, we had a quarter of an hour and we all practiced and had a go. We didn’t want to go home,” Sandra laughed.

“People are compelled to interact with the table, to touch it and touch the colours. Even people that you wouldn’t think would normally be interested in it,” said Wendy. This isn’t just fun is. It keeps people alert. “It improves their cognitive ability. There are number and colour interactions, because some people lose those skills with dementia. There’s hand eye coordination.”

Wendy says it’s been a hit with her regulars. “They love it. It’s always out and available,” she said.

Tricuro operates the Trinity Centre service and on their Open Day on Wednesday you will be offered a premises tour and a chance to meet the staff. “We used to be part of Dorset County Council. Then we separated but we’re still wholly owned by Dorset Council,” explained Wendy.

As you might imagine, money is tight, and the interactive table funding has come from the community. It wasn’t cheap. “£10,000. We were really lucky to raise that from local businesses,” Wendy said. Charitable bodies also chipped in. The Freemasons donated £500. “Lions, Round Table, Williams and Williams and some local individuals contributed quite a large amount as well. Thank you all. It was really appreciated,” said Wendy.

Next, Wendy wants to buy virtual reality kit. “We have had a member of staff from another centre come with some virtual reality. They really loved that as well. The interactive games are becoming really good. We have a Games Champion at every centre in Tricuro. We play on the Wii and various gadgets.”

On Wednesday, between 10am and 3pm, you will be particularly welcome if you are a carer. “At the day centre in Shaftesbury, we have a carers’ support group, which is open to anybody. It’s not just the carers of the clients that come here. We open it up to friends, neighbours and family members that might be supporting a carer. We meet once a month on the third Tuesday. We have the carers’ support worker and the carers’ lead from the GP surgery. There’s a variety of knowledge between us and it is very well attended,” Wendy said. “We usually have a speaker for 45 minutes and then we have some social and interaction time for the second part,” she added.

Tricuro at the Trinity Centre

You are welcome to join the day care team and their regular visitors for lunch. If you want to dine on Wednesday, you will need to book on 854 959. “We have a community lunch which is open to anybody over the age of 18 to try and reduce loneliness and isolation. You don’t have to have a disability or anything to be able to come in to that. It’s £6 for two courses.”

It’s available six days a week and Wendy says attendance numbers vary. “We can have 2 or 22,” she said. She would like more people to dine at the Trinity Centre, because it is important for her clients to interact with new visitors of different ages. “It’s really beneficial to have that variety and different social skills.”

The day centre clients were getting ready for their lunch. I pointed out to Wendy that the table was free. “We could have a play,” she laughed. I asked for her favourite game. “The umbrellas. You just touch a brolly and it opens,” she said. This seemed a most British game. We began and Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ fired up in the background.

Rain or shine, Wendy, Sandra and their colleagues entertain and look after Shaftesbury people who need some help. On Wednesday, you can see their great work for yourself – and perhaps splat a strawberry or two.