'Magic table' uses technology to help people with dementia

The Maimonides Geriatric Centre and the Jewish Eldercare Centre will be the first two residences in Quebec to have the interactive device.

The Montreal Gazette 4 minute read August 5, 2021

As images of green leaves and red ladybugs projected from above danced on a tabletop at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre on Wednesday and participants reached out to swipe at them, resident Harry Mintz had a good line.

“One lady that doesn’t bug me too much,” he said. It earned him a laugh.

A therapeutic play system acquired by the Côte-St-Luc long-term care centre was being demonstrated — the Tovertafel. It’s Dutch for magic table.

A box mounted on the ceiling or a tall, movable support holds a projector, computer hardware and infrared sensors that capture even the smallest hand movements of players. The sensors project interactive

games and colourful images onto a table or the floor to encourage play — leaves that people swipe, for instance, or projections of fish they try to catch.

The games are intended to entertain, but their primary goal is therapeutic. Hester Anderiesen Le Riche designed the Tovertafel while working on a PhD in industrial design engineering in the Netherlands. She collaborated with several residences for the elderly, intending for it to stimulate physical activity in people with severe dementia, and to “entice those with cognitive challenges to interact and have fun together,” as she put it in one interview.

The Tovertafel has shown promise in physical activity as well as social interaction among residents with dementia and there is also evidence it decreases some of the negative behaviours associated with dementia, including apathy, restlessness, agitation, difficulty paying attention, personality changes and wandering.

Maimonides and the Jewish Eldercare Centre, both part of the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, will be the first centres in Quebec to have Tovertafels. The first unit is expected to arrive in the next couple of weeks.

There are about 5,000 Tovertafels in place in 10 countries; in Canada, there is one in Alberta.

The Tovertafel “is immersive interactive technology designed for the stimulation of long-term residents with dementia,” said Erin Cook, associate director of Soutien à l’autonomie des personnes âgées (SAPA) (hébergement) at the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “It is a therapeutic device.

“The unfortunate reality of COVID resulted in our residents being quite isolated and that fed into apathy and social isolation,” she said in an interview. “The more you are surrounded by people with apathy, the more you become apathetic. By bringing the technology to a common room and bringing seven or eight people around the table, it makes everyone more active.”

Having staff and even family members participate with residents means there are rewards for everyone, said Valérie Larochelle, co-founder of the Montreal-based company Eugéria, which is distributing the Tovertafel in Canada. “It allows staff to have conversations with residents and means greater potential for interactions with family members,” she said. “They can sit at the table and use it together.”

When the Tovertafel was introduced in 2016, the games focused on late-stage dementia, Larochelle said. Now they are working on games for people who are in earlier stage of the disease. “Depending on the stage in the disease, the way a game is designed needs to be different.”

Research, to be done at Canadian sites, will show whether the stimulation of the Tovertafel in earlier stages could lead to better management of symptoms and perhaps even delay progression of the disease, she said.

The $14,500 cost of the Tovertafel was paid for by the foundation at Maimonides. Another unit has been acquired by the Jewish Eldercare Centre. The hope is to be able to purchase more for other long-term care sites within the CIUSSS, said Barbra Gold, director of SAPA for the health authority.

“It’s a program every facility should have,” she said. “It increases quality of life.”

While therapies to cure dementia do not exist yet, helping people with the disease is about innovative research between users and innovators, said Danina Kapetanovic, chief innovation officer for the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal and head of OROT, a connected health innovation hub involved with the Tovertafel project.

“We believe the beginning of any innovation is understanding the critical need,” she said.