Home>News>‘World leading’ Art and Design Research Transforms Lives of People with Dementia

‘World leading’ Art and Design Research Transforms Lives of People with Dementia

​News | 12 May 2022

Cardiff Metropolitan University

A team of researchers from Cardiff Metropolitan University’s School of Art and Design has transformed the quality of life for people with advanced dementia with a device aptly named HUG™. Led by Professor Cathy Treadaway and colleagues in the Centre for Applied Research in Inclusive Arts and Design (CARIAD), the team has developed a wearable long-armed, cushion-like object that contains a beating heart, plays music and has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of those living with advanced dementia.

The UK Government has just published its assessment of UK university research following the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) and has judged 83% of the impact of Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Art & Design research case studies to be delivering world leading, real-world impact.

More than 900,000 older people in the UK have dementia, a figure expected to increase to over 1.2 million by 2030 [E1]. People with dementia tend to show reduced activity and cognitive response over time, but field trials at Sunrise Senior Living found that 87% of residents using HUG™ for six months experienced improved wellbeing and increased functional and cognitive ability [E2].

The research on which HUG™ was founded began in 2015, shortly after the last UK Government assessment of UK university research reported, when Professor Treadaway won a major Arts & Humanities Research Council grant to develop and test prototypes of six playful objects for people living with advanced dementia. One of the six objects, HUG™, was found to have a particularly significant impact on the wellbeing of Thelma, the person for whom it was developed. Her professional carers contended that the HUG™ ‘transformed’ and ‘prolonged her life’.

Margaret is living with dementia and has been given access to HUG™. Her daughter Alison stated: “The thought of your loved one kind of slipping away and maybe just slipping away for good is just terrifying. So to see her actually coming back is just amazing. It’s just brilliant….The HUG, I don’t know what it is, but it has kind of brought her (Mum) back again. The recognition, the smiles, the happiness seems to have come back.”

Numerous requests from countries including The Netherlands, Iceland, South Africa, Belgium, France, Canada, Singapore and Australia led to a spin-out company (HUG by LAUGH) being set up to manufacture and sell HUG™. Investment of over £100K followed from the Alzheimer’s Society UK, a Crowd Funding campaign and Cardiff Met. Over 2,000 HUG™s have been shipped around the world and it is now prescribed on the NHS to people living with cognitive impairment. ‘Compassionate Design’, the methodology advanced by Cardiff Met and that which informed the development of HUG™ is now being taught to Design and Human Computer Interaction students in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and the USA.

Further Information:

Film about HUG
BBC News film about HUG
ITV News item on HUG
BBC Radio Derby item on HUG

The LAUGH Project
Cardiff Met’s CARIAD Research Team


New Care


[E1] Wittenberg R, Hu B, Barraza‐Araiza L, Rehill A. (2019) Projections of Older People with Dementia and Costs of Dementia Care in the United Kingdom, 2019‐2040. London, England: Care Policy and Evaluation Centre, pp. 1‐79.

[E2] Treadaway, C., Pool, J. and Johnson, A. (2020) Sometimes a HUG is all you need, Journal of Dementia Care, November/December, 28(6), pp. 32-34.