The Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA) project aims to develop a reminiscence experience based on a computer using multimedia techniques.

Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA)

Dementia, which involves the loss of short term memory, is a very serious problem for the person and for their family and carers. It rules out most social activities and interactions, since these depend on a working short term memory for effective participation; this includes even the essential ability to communicate.

Finding ways to promote communication in people with dementia is vitally important. When communication fails, carers are left to infer intention and meaning from behaviour and this can have negative consequences, such as believing incorrectly that someone is deliberately being difficult.

The apparent ‘loss’ of some abilities in dementia patients does not mean a person can no longer communicate. Reminiscence work with people with dementia is a valuable tool for enabling them to participate meaningfully in conversations. However, such sessions put the considerable burden of organising and conducting them on the carer. Advancing technology may offer ways to augment and supplement human care, if it is sensitively designed with the needs of potential users always taken into account.

Aims and objectives

The Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA) project aims to develop an innovatively designed reminiscence experience based on a computer, using multimedia techniques, that could provide the user with a livelier and more engaging form of reminiscence activity than, for instance, a paper scrapbook. The main objective of using a computer based system over traditional materials is the bringing together of the various media into one easily accessible system.


CIRCA is the first dedicated computer-based system to support reminiscence and conversation. It is an easy-to-use computer programme that helps support conversation between people with dementia, and their caregivers and relatives. The system contains an extensive collection of archive photographs, video clips and popular music which is easily accessed by simply touching the screen.

The system involves the user by stimulating thoughts and memories and well-rehearsed scripts. Contemporary footage of city life, local beauty spots, festive and traditional events are juxtaposed with archive material to bridge the old and new. Hypermedia provides abundant opportunities for users to make decisions as they explore the system. Random scripting in the programming ensures that the process of involvement need not be repetitive – each use of the material will be a different experience if desired, while an index or search facility allows for more predictable options.

The person with dementia can use CIRCA in different ways. They may wish to tell a story or to simply enjoy the experience of exploring the presentations with another person. By ‘filling in the gaps’ of a typical conversation, CIRCA encourages a failure-free social interaction.

CIRCA Connect is a company founded by this multi-disciplinary team. As well as producing the CIRCA system, the team have developed LIM (Living in the Moment) Games, a series of bespoke computer games that can be enjoyed as a joint or independent activity by people living with dementia.

Project team

Main project collaborators

Dr Norman Alm, University of Dundee (Principal Investigator)
Dr Arlene Astell, University of St Andrews (Co-Investigator)
Gary Gowans, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Phillip Vaughan, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Researcher)
Dr Richard Dye, University of Dundee (Researcher)
Dr Maggie Ellis, University of St Andrews (Researcher)
Giles Hamilton (Executive Director)

DJCAD team

Gary Gowans (Co-Investigator)
Phillip Vaughan (Researcher)

Project value
EPSRC £289,317 (Value to University of Dundee: £289,317)