Research scientists will develop "Facebook Light" with a user interface suitable for the elderly and people with dementia to promote important social contact.

Both research and experience show that social contact enables people with dementia to maintain their level of functioning longer.

"Why should elderly people be excluded from the social media, which are the communication platform of the future?" asks Tone Oderud, a research scientist at SINTEF.

In her opinion this is often the case today.

"The user interface is too advanced for very many people," says Oderud.

She is working in a multidisciplinary research team to develop a web-based communications application which is simple enough to enable even people with dementia to use it.

The aim is to create a simpler and more secure everyday life for elderly and senile people, their relatives and personnel in the community care services. In addition, the system must satisfy the requirements for the protection of personal information.

Communication improves health

The research scientists believe social media can become an important tool which can improve the quality of life of the ever-increasing number of elderly people in society, while at the same time easing the burden on therapists and caregivers.

Experience shows that social contact with the outside world has a positive effect on people with dementia.

"We have already carried out some practical testing of other web-based communications systems. Among other things, we have tested a "digital diary" and a "scrapbook" containing personal photos, newspaper cuttings and information found online.

"Both of these were found to promote improved communication between both relatives and the community care services in an informal but valuable way," says Øderud.

Better security for relatives too

The tests showed that constant, simple contact between relatives and the support services improved everybody's security.

At the same time it reduced the time the caregivers needed to follow up concerned relatives.

As a result of the positive experience, the research scientists are continuing their work with digital applications, in an effort to stimulate more and better communication for this group of patients.

"The tests have shown us that there is great potential for all in the fields of caregiving and digital communication," says the SINTEF researcher.

A prototype is currently being tested in the city of Drammen in southern Norway.