Dementia device 'kind of brought my mum back'

By Colette Hume
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

"Mum was holding HUG and her face was just happy"

"It's kind of brought her back again."

Alison Webb had watched her mother Margaret, 73, "slipping further and further away" because of dementia.

Margaret has been using a device called a HUG, aimed at improving the mental well-being of people with advanced dementia - who often experience anxiety and depression.

After it helped her and others, the design team at Cardiff Metropolitan University now want to produce it commercially.

"Every time I came to visit I seemed to be losing a little bit more of her.

"The smiles were less frequent, the recognition of me was slipping away."

Margaret worked her whole life in a bank, brought up Alison alone and enjoyed travelling and spending time with her three grandchildren.

But the smiling, happy, hard-working, loving mother she knew started disappearing before her eyes after being diagnosed with dementia 10 years ago.

Image caption,
The HUG has helped Margaret, who has had dementia for 10 years
Image source, Google
Image caption,
Residents in Cardiff have been trialling the HUG

In the spring the Sunrise Senior Living home in Cardiff, where Margaret lives, took delivery of 20 HUGs as part of a trial, and she was one of the first people to be given one.

While it looks like a soft toy on the outside, it has a beating heart and speaker that can play chosen music and sounds.

Alison said: "I walked in and Mum was holding the HUG in the dining room and her face was just happy... almost serene and it was lovely.

"The icing on the cake was the music. All my mum's favourite songs are there - musicals, Elvis, Tom Jones, Abba."

Danny Langhorn from Sunrise said: "The HUG is not intrusive to them, it's not a person... they're not feeling threatened.

"They're just able to sit there, listen and in their own time start feeling comfortable."

It was designed by a team led by Cathy Treadaway at the university's Centre for Applied Research in Inclusive Arts and Design, or Cariad.

Image source, Cardiff Metropolitan University
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The HUG was designed with dementia patient Thelma in mind

The idea came about after a visit to a care home in Port Talbot, during a project to design objects for people with dementia.

"Thelma's carers asked us to make something for her, and when we asked them what kind of thing they wanted us to make, they told us the only thing they could think that Thelma needed was a hug, so we went away and came up with HUG," said Prof Treadaway.

Thelma showed improvement within a week: opening her eyes, engaging with other residents of the home, and her falls - which had been frequent - stopped completely.

The team then applied for more funding from the Welsh Government to see if Thelma's response could be replicated.

Dementia is the umbrella term to describe around 100 conditions including Alzheimer's and is the leading cause of death in Wales and England.

About 40,000 people in Wales are living with dementia and there is currently no cure.

Last week the US drug company Biogen announced it was ready to bring a drug to the market which it said could slow Alzheimer's.

Image source, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Image caption,
Cathy Treadaway led the team which designed the HUG

But approval could take a year or two and if successful the company aims to initially offer the drug to patients previously enrolled on clinical studies of the drug.

It could be some time before the drug reaches the UK.

But Alison says she's grateful to see her mum Margaret happy again.

"The recognition and the smiles and the happiness seem to have come back which is brilliant, brilliant."

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