Tactile Dialogues

Tactile Dialogues pillow. Photo by Bart van Overbeeke

Keeping dementia patients in touch with their families

Tactile Dialogues is a Smart Textile Service which consists of a textile object in the form of a pillow with integrated vibration elements that react to touch. The goal of the textile object is to enable a dialogue by triggering physical communication patterns between a person with severe dementia and a family member, spouse, or other caregiver, by a joint interaction with the product.

Video of the stakeholders explaining the value of Tactile Dialogues.

Bodily conversations

The pillow provides various vibrotactile stimulus patterns and haptic sensations that, when combined, encourage the patient to move and develop conversations in an alternative yet bodily way. The object can be used in spaces where two people are sitting: for example, at a table, couch, or over the armrests of a wheelchair. The object consists of a textile with integrated vibration elements. When these elements are touched (by rubbing, stroking, or pushing) a soft vibration can be felt from multiple locations on the object. This stimulates small movements and social connection between the people using the pillow: it allows for a dialogue based on physical interaction to begin.

Husband and wife exploring the vibrations, finding each other through small touches and eye contact. Video by Bart van Overbeeke.

Personalized vibrotactile behaviour

The vibrations in the pillow can be programmed to create specific vibratory behaviors. For example, when both sides are touched simultaneously, the vibration will increase. The standard vibrotactile behavior is the mirroring behavior: touch on one end of the pillow is mirrored with vibrations on the other end. The service provider offers a coaching process in which the family member and the person with dementia are instructed together in using Tactile Dialogues and also co-create the vibration patterns together. In collaboration with a motivational therapist, the vibrotactile behavior of the pillow can be adapted to the person. An example of a tailored vibration is a game in which the people have to move their hands to find where the vibration is coming from.

Interaction behaviors tailored to the person with dementia. Illustration by Carolina Gómez Naranj.
Interaction behaviors tailored to the person with dementia. Illustration by Carolina Gómez Naranj.

The Tactile Dialogues pillow

The Tactile Dialogues pillow was developed in such a way that it looks inviting for the client, but is still perceived as respectful towards the communication partner. It is meant to fit within modern eldercare organizations, but could also be placed in a living room. The functional properties gave direction to the aesthetic choices during the design process. For example, we chose for a pillow based on the knowledge that people with dementia react better to the outside world when there is extra weight on their bodies. The choices for the tactile properties of the fabric resulted after conducting tests from which we concluded that different surfaces trigger different hand movements. For example, a thick layered fabric would trigger plucking movements, and ridges in the fabric would trigger rubbing with the hands.

Tactile Dialogues pillow. Photo by Wetzer & Berends
Tactile Dialogues pillow. Photo by Wetzer & Berends


  • Designers: Martijn ten Bhömer, Borre Akkersdijk, Oscar Tomico
  • Partners: TU/e, TextielMuseum TextielLab, De Wever, byBorre, Optima Knit, Metatronics
  • Students: Orfeas Lyras, Suzanne Bon, Bregje Brocken, Carolina Gómez Naranjo & Kimberly Schelle
  • Materials: Cotton yarn, Elektrisola textile wire, 3D-printed casing, Bekinox conductive fibers, Vibration motors, Custom CRISP motor printed circuit board, Battery
  • Techniques: Circular knitting, 3D-printing, Programming, Heat pressing, Soldering
  • My role in collaboration: Initiator of the project, User-centered design and validation, Integration of textile and technology & Interaction design
Martijn ten Bhömer
Martijn ten Bhömer
Co-founder & CTO

Specialized in the design, research and development of intelligent products.