What’s a Tovertafel and why does it help those with dementia?

Have you heard of the Tovertafel? If not, you’ll want to learn all about it. As part of our bid to ensure that our residents, particularly those with suffering from dementia, have their social, cognitive and physical needs met during the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve installed these fabulous pieces of kit. Read on to find out more and why we’ve installed them in our dementia care homes in North Devon and Somerset.

What is a Tovertafel?

You may well have seen a Tovertafel before and not known that was its name! It’s an overhead projector game. It projects a variety of different games onto a plain table top from a small box mounted on the ceiling. It then uses infrared technology, speakers and processor to make these games interactive and responsive to the movements and actions of the residents around the table. They are enormously fun and the games are diverse with fabulous colours and shapes.

Fundamentally, Tovertafels are fun. They are enormously engaging and encourage care home residents to play, interact and enjoy the light show and challenges involved.

They aim to help in three core areas: social, physical and cognitive. This means that dementia residents can engage socially in a way that is accessible whilst exercising their minds and bodies. There are a range of different light-based games available, each balancing these core objectives differently. For example, some are more focused on social interaction, whilst others are designed to encourage residents to move more.

What are the benefits for our residents of having a Tovertafel?

We’ve absolutely loved seeing how our residents have displayed huge beaming smiles, let out laughs and engaged with one another through the Tovertafel. The benefits for those with dementia are wide ranging and include:

  • Engagement: It is vital that those with dementia are able to engage with those around them and aren’t shut off in a feeling of apathy because their world doesn’t seem accessible any more. Our staff have been particularly pleased with how the Tovertafel has engaged some of our quieter residents, who have particularly struggled with the visiting restrictions we’ve had to bring in due to Covid-19.
  • Physical activity: Those with dementia need help to remain active, within their abilities. This helps to prevent falls and enables as much independence and physical health as possible. The table top games require coordinated hand and arm movements ensuring a fair degree of movement, without the risk of leaving the chair.
  • Social interaction: With dementia, there can be notable difficulties with social interaction. Feeling lost, socially, because you struggle with cognition and short-term memory can be isolating. With these interactive games, residents have a common thing to chat about. They work together and can access the language they need relating to the game, providing a common ground which feels socially safe.
  • Self-esteem: We’ve been really pleased with seeing how our residents’ self-esteem is bolstered through a few games. Designed specifically for those with dementia, suddenly these individuals can do something successfully again. There is no right or wrong, many of the movements are intuitive, and all of a sudden they feel more in control of their body and mind.
  • Familiarity: What’s great about the Tovertafel is that it doesn’t change the care home’s environment when being used or when not in use. For those with dementia it is essential that we don’t move furniture in their environment without absolute necessity. They need the familiarity that things stay the same. To play, it’s just a case of sitting at a familiar table, in a familiar environment.

A couple of example games

We have a large number of different games that our residents can play using the Tovertafel. All are engaging and include familiar objects. Some are more complex, requiring a small amount of number or language knowledge, but most rely on wonderful colourful light shows using images from nature (e.g. birds) or everyday life (e.g. toys or UK scenery).

Two of our residents’ favourite games are ‘Flowers’ and ‘Leaves’.

  • Flowers: All of the Tovertafel games are beautiful, but the Flowers game is exceptionally so. Bright and intensely coloured flowers dance across the table, making it particularly good as an introductory game or for those with visual impairments. Residents rub the flower projection on the table top and this makes the flower grow and grow! Gardening and flowers are often a favourite subject for our residents, giving them something to chat about. This is a very social game but also encourages lots of movement.
  • Leaves: A taste of autumn comes without the rain with the Leaves game! Projected leaves breeze across the table and residents are instinctively drawn to ‘throw’ the leaves like a child would on a woodland walk. Popping up between the leaves are bright ladybirds, adding an element of joy and surprise. We find this game often brings back wonderful memories, and it is a brilliant game for physical movement.

The science and research

It may be fun, but there’s some real science and research behind why the Tovertafel is proving so useful at Eastleigh. It was created on the back of PhD research from the Netherlands by Hester Le Riche and then developed in conjunction with care workers, residents and their loved ones. The individual games have been developed and refined to stimulate different areas of the brain. All intended to be played from a chair, they promote physical exercise whilst being safe.

The Tovertafel at Eastleigh

We’ve got Tovertafels and a mixture of games available at our South Molton and Minehead dementia care homes. Our residents are enthusiastically enjoying them and reaping the benefits. It was a decision to introduce them because of the limitations on our usual busy activity programme because of Covid-19, but they are here to stay and will be a well-loved feature of our homes for the future.

We are still able to take new residents, despite the pandemic. Give us a call on 01769 573166.