Personalized Play

Categories: Optimizing Brain Health, Technology|By |Published On: |

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A wall-mounted entertainment console known as ABBY is helping to improve quality of life for people living with dementia and their caregivers. 

"Family members ... found that taking [their loved one living with dementia] over to the ABBY was a great way to improve the quality of their interactions with the family member.”

– Dr. Mark Chignell

ABBY is a wall-mounted entertainment console, developed by AGE-WELL’s industry partner, Ambient Activity Technologies. The unit has been installed in numerous long-term care facilities across Canada and continues to be refined by the findings of Dr. Mark Chignell and Dr. Andrea Wilkinson from the University of Toronto.

The ABBY uses a Montessori approach to actively engage seniors with familiar tactile activities like turning a wheel, flipping switches or petting a cat. “When ABBY is used by TRs [therapeutic recreation specialists] in their practice, it’s been found to be quite helpful in managing responsive behaviors,” Chignell says. “Another big thing is that family members say it can improve their visits. They found that taking [their loved one living with dementia] over to the ABBY was a great way to improve the quality of their interactions with the family member.”

Photo courtesy of Ambient Activity Technologies.

The journey to create ABBY started more than six years ago, when AGE-WELL connected Chignell and Marc Kanik, president of Ambient Activity Technologies. Kanik has a 25-year background in developing therapeutic —and often tech-based — activities for children. 

“We’d come to understand how activity, play, can be used in therapeutic situations to address some of the challenges that kids faced in dealing with traumatic circumstances,” says Kanik, who then took these findings and set out with Chignell to design something specifically for seniors. The ABBY unit has a nostalgic, 1950s look to it. A litany of knobs, lights, switches, and even a small pelt of artificial fur engages different pieces of media on the ABBY’s screen for the resident.

The experience is personalized to each user, with their favourite songs, shows, and photos of their loved ones loaded into the unit.

Residents wear a Bluetooth bracelet so that the ABBY knows which profile to load when they approach the unit to interact, and Kanik says they are working on facial recognition tech so that personalized interaction with ABBY is even more seamless.

“It’s just there, available in the environment. The purpose is not to place more burden on care providers, so we try in every respect to make the unit self-accessing,” Kanik says.

As the research by Chignell and Wilkinson came to show that ABBY was effective in lowering aggression, agitation, lowering paranoia and delusions, and improving quality of life for long-term care residents, Kanik says the team’s focus for the device has now moved to engaging staff at the facilities.

“Our focus now is trying to assist long-term care providers, who are the heroes in this story. We want to use our knowledge and expertise to develop technological approaches to help them provide empathetic care,” Kanik says.


Visit for more information and updates on ABBY.