Dementia is lonely. According to the CDC, approximately 5 million people lived with a form of dementia in 2014, a number that is predicted to reach nearly 14 million by 2060. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are several other types. As dementia progresses, people living the disease are often depressed and withdrawn, isolated from the world around them. We wrote about Posit Science’s BrainHQ brain training exercises designed to stimulate the brain to attempt to hold off dementia progression.

A team at Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Centre for Applied Research in Inclusive Arts and Design (CARIAD) developed HUG, an anthropomorphic-shaped therapeutic soft toy with weighted arms and legs. HUG contains electronics that simulate a beating heart and can also play pre-set music tracks. HUG is a product of the CARIAD LAUGH research project. LAUGH (Ludic Artefacts Using Gesture and Haptics) focuses on designing playful devices that support people in late stage dementia. HUG isn’t a cure for dementia, nor does it have sensors that alert caregivers of changes in vital signs or falls. HUG’s primary purpose is to bring joy and comfort to dementia patients.

HUG was a finalist in the 2020 Tech4Good Awards in the category of Digital Health. The LAUGH team has a crowdfunding page to raise funds to support further development of the HUG electronics module and to sponsor additional HUGs the team will provide to people recommended by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Dementia and loneliness are targets of opportunity for health tech devices. According to the LAUGH team, when people are happier and more content, they typically require less medication, fall less often, and live longer. It’s also just plain nice.