Tablet Computers in Joint Activities for People Living with Dementia


Living with dementia is often associated with loss, confusion, and dependency. However, there is a growing body of research that recognizes the remaining abilities of individuals with dementia and how they cope with the challenges in their everyday lives.

This doctoral thesis by Elias Ingebrand explores a topic that is typically framed with negative assumptions: learning. The thesis focuses on the use of tablet computers as a case study to examine novel learning in joint activities for people living with dementia.

Understanding Dementia and its Challenges

Dementia is a complex condition that can have various underlying causes and includes numerous diagnoses. It is commonly characterized by a decline in cognitive and communicative functions. Unfortunately, due to its clinical connotations, people living with dementia often face negative assumptions about their abilities and limitations.

They are often depicted as passive and disengaged communicators who struggle to maintain attention in interactions. Prevailing metaphors such as a return to childhood or empty shells further perpetuate these misconceptions.

Objective of the Thesis

The primary aim of this thesis is to explore novel learning in everyday activities for people living with dementia, focusing on the use of tablet computers. The research adopts an interactionist perspective, considering learning as a social and situated process that involves changing participation in joint activities.

The data used in the thesis comprises 50 video recordings where individuals with dementia, who have no prior experience with touchscreen technologies, are observed using tablet computers with either caregivers or other people living with dementia. The participants were instructed to use the tablets according to their own interests, without any explicit emphasis on learning as an objective.

Four Empirical Studies

The thesis consists of four empirical studies, all utilizing the methodological framework of multimodal conversation analysis, to challenge the stereotypical belief that people living with dementia are incapable of novel learning.

Study I focuses on a woman living with dementia who learns to navigate and use an augmentative and alternative communication application on a tablet computer over a six-week period. The analysis reveals that the participant gradually reduces her reliance on detailed information from her interlocutors, demonstrating her increasing proficiency with the technology.

Study II investigates how individuals living with dementia position themselves as learners in unfamiliar joint activities. The results highlight that participants publicly display their current understanding of the ongoing activities, introduce learning as a topic of conversation, and actively engage in soliciting information to enhance their participation.

Study III examines how professional and family caregivers support individuals with dementia in managing tablet computers. The analysis demonstrates that caregivers are attentive to the participants’ displayed understanding of the activities and adapt their instructions with detailed multimodal cues as needed.

Study IV shifts focus from dyadic constellations involving a person with dementia and a caregiver to exploring how individuals with dementia manage joint activities with their peers. The results reveal that participants treat the activities as collaborative endeavors, offering or soliciting information when necessary and orienting towards each other’s competences.

Findings and Implications

The findings from this thesis challenge the notion that people living with dementia are incapable of novel learning without structured interventions. The research demonstrates that the learning process for individuals with dementia is highly collaborative, with participants actively supporting each other throughout the activities. The thesis emphasizes the importance of repeated participation in joint activities and highlights the procedural and agentive aspects of learning for people living with dementia.


In conclusion, this doctoral thesis by Elias Ingebrand sheds light on the possibilities of learning for people living with dementia. By focusing on the use of tablet computers in joint activities, the thesis challenges negative assumptions and stereotypes surrounding dementia. The research highlights the active engagement and collaborative nature of learning among individuals with dementia, emphasizing their capacity for novel learning and the significance of social interactions in facilitating this process.

The findings have implications for designing interventions and support systems that promote learning and agency among people living with dementia, ultimately enhancing their quality of life.

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