When we get old, one of the problems we face is the lost of memory. It can be caused by a disease such as Alzheimers’, or simply deterioration of brain functions. As a service learning project, we have been visiting and discussing with the Lam Woo Center for Seniors in ShumShuiPo run by the YWCA. Our students have developed a prototype of a game that asks the seniors to try to remember and match pictures of people and their names. On Saturday, we took the game over to the center and demonstrated it to their staff and tested it with some of the seniors there. We learned a lot about their needs and collected many ideas on how to improve the game. For example, we have to make the game very simple, and easy to understand, perhaps starting with just pictures and no words. We also have to give people a lot of time to watch the pictures, to think, and to recall. The game have to be flexible, to suit different needs. We are happy that we seem to be on the right track, with lots of ideas to work on. We have already started on other related projects and have bigger plans being developed.
The experience reinforces our impression that seniors often behave like children. They are often skeptical of things they are not familiar with, and are afraid to fail, to look bad. If they are given friendly support and guidance, however, they can be encouraged to try. And, like all of us, they rejoice at succeeding. Their joy and smiles are our reward.
We also came away more convinced that technology has a role to play. That we can design games and other tools that is fun for the seniors, and at the same time help them retain important faculties such as memory. That such games can help to make the job easier for those who are dedicated to take care of them.
The most important lesson, however, is that technology is just a tool. If we just give the seniors a game, but do not spend the time and effort to help them play, that the game will just sit there, another piece of mysterious gadget that they do not and cannot understand. Ultimately it is the people, the care, the love that is most valuable. That is the lesson that we are learning continuously.