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Dementia aid HUG™ named ‘People’s Choice’ in national awards

​News | September 30, 2020

An innovative multi-sensory comforting device, created by researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University to help people living with advanced dementia, has earned national recognition.

HUG™, which provides the calming sensation of giving and receiving a cuddle, was named both People's Choice and overall Winner of Winners in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards 2020. These prestigious awards recognise organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place. 

HUG™ is the brainchild of a team at the university led by Professor Cathy Treadaway from the Centre for Applied Research (CARIAD) at Cardiff School of Art & Design, It provides the calming sensation of giving and receiving a cuddle and has been shown to soothe, comfort and reduce anxiety in people with more advanced symptoms of dementia. 

Five years in development, HUG™ incorporates electronics that replicate a beating heart and play a personalised choice of music and familiar sounds. This is encapsulated in a soft, tactile body with weighted hands and feet that support people with late-stage dementia to sit upright comfortably.  

Commenting on the awards, Prof. Treadaway said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by the judges of the Tech4Good Awards 2020 as both their People’s Choice and overall Winner of Winners. We are very grateful to the many people who have contributed towards the research: carers, families and health professionals and the many members of the public who have supported our work leading to this award.

“People living with dementia and their families have been hit very badly by the COVID-19 pandemic with restrictions on visiting in care homes and shielding requirements in the community. We all need social contact to keep positive and feel well, especially those living with advanced dementia, and yet many are being denied any form of physical touch. HUG™ can help alleviate the anxiety and loneliness many are experiencing at this difficult time.”

Mark Walker, Head of Marketing and Communications at AbilityNet, added: “I want to congratulate all the winners of this year’s awards for helping make the world a more accessible and better place. There was such a high calibre of entrants this year and it was incredibly difficult to select the final winners.”

The first HUG™ prototype earned far-reaching media interest and press coverage after it was found to have a profound beneficial impact on the person for whom it was designed. Her professional carers and family attributed the positive effects on her health and wellbeing – fewer falls, greater social interaction and improved speech and eating – to using HUG™. Despite being on end-of-life care, she lived happily for a further nine months after receiving a HUG™.

Prototypes of HUG™ have since been undergoing trials within the NHS and private care sector, with input from carers, health professionals and people living with dementia, as well as the Alzheimer’s Society. HUG™ is currently being evaluated in a research trial with the NHS and Cardiff care home company Sunrise Senior Living, funded by Welsh Government (ERDF), with early results indicating significant benefits to individual wellbeing. 

Marking a landmark stage in its development, a spin-out limited company, HUG by LAUGH™, has recently been launched, together with a crowdfunding campaign aimed at funding large-scale production, ensuring HUG™ is commercially available for the people who need them.