Technology developed by Midland-based Ambient Activity is making a profound impact on dementia patients in long-term care facilities throughout the province.

“Our focus is to develop non-pharmaceutical, activity-based approaches to managing agitated behaviours in long-term care (facilities),” said Marc Kanik, managing director of Ambient Activity.

The local company partnered with the University of Toronto and six long-term-care facilities to develop ABBY — an interactive touch-screen unit, which engages dementia patients by triggering memories.

“It is really a quality-of-life issue. People living with cognitive impairments exhibit aggressive behaviours and it is a significant challenge in long-term care,” said Kanik.

People living with dementia lose their explicit memory, but will retain their implicit memory. The company spent time searching for a way to utilize the remaining ability to get patients with dementia to engage in familiar activities to jog memory and help with the agitated behaviour.

ABBY is mounted on the wall in long-term care facilities and is there for use at any time.

“We call our approach ambient activity. It is always there available in the environment 24/7 and it augments the care environment,” said Kanik. “It is simply another tool to help the front-line care providers.”

Marc Kanik

Marc Kanik, Managing Director at Ambient Activity Technologies, spoke about ABBY at the Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe’s 2018 Prosperity Summit.


ABBY allows residents with dementia to access and interact with appropriate and personalized experiences, memories and activities. Each unit consists of a touch screen, a couple knobs, and a few activities such as a wheel that can be turned on and a fake cat the patient can pet.
“What is unique about our approach is that we can personalize the content to the individual,” said Kanik. “We can populate the technology with content that is familiar to (each patient) … as a way to break the agitation.”

For an elderly Russian who has lost his ability to speak English, the machine can be populated with familiar content and languages, which will allow him to interact in Russian.

For over 25 years the company had been developing play activity units for commercial environments such as shopping malls, retail outlets and places like Ikea and McDonald’s. When that market started to stagnate, they shifted gears.

“For the last 10 years we’ve been integrating play concepts into places like child abuse centres, children’s hospitals and libraries,” said Kanik. “We have developed this understanding and expertise in play used in therapeutic environments.”

Five years ago, a long-term care facility in Elmvale asked them to bring one of their play elements into the home. While Kanik initially thought it was to occupy the patients’ grandchildren, the home actually wanted it to help with dementia patients.

“It was sort of an aha moment for us,” said Kanik. “There was an opportunity for us to think about how activity might be employed to help improve this long-term care environment.”

Different technology was tried in six care facilities and found to have dramatic impact.

“We were able to demonstrate significant impact on a bunch of measures. (It helped with) agitated behaviours, staff strain and burnout and added to visitor satisfaction,” said Kanik.