When inventor Chris Barnardo appeared on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den TV show, he won the hearts of all five business heavyweights. They literally threw money at him, and all because of a magic wand. The Kymera Magic Wand.
This was Barnardo’s universal remote control, designed to command electrical gadgets with a flick of the hand or a twist of the wrist.
Since launching last year, the wand has notched up thousands of sales, although some would say the wand’s biggest achievement isn’t commercial but in rekindling the owner’s sense of play. Just don’t call it a toy.
“Modern technology is magical. We’ve made that a bit more overt by showing that in the wand, but I would not describe it as a toy,” says Barnardo, grimacing at the mere suggestion.
“My mother loves singing, dancing, stuffed animals. They delight her. When she is delighted so am I” says Bob DeMarco, son of Alzheimers patient, Dotty, explaining how he struck upon the use of a toy to improve his mother’s mood and offer her increased comfort.
Pete the Repeat Parrot, which Dotty has re-named Harvey, encourages more conversation and teases out emotional responses, says Bob.
“I decided to leave the parrot on at all times. Dotty spent hours talking to the parrot. Then things I couldn’t believe started to happen. Dotty started doing things she hadn’t done in years.”
Dotty started waking up earlier, bringing in the newspaper and turning on the light to read. She also began washing and sorting dishes, making her own breakfast, and singing every day.
These small changes might not sound like much, but as Bob says “Her behavior has improved in a simple sense – she is showing signs of behavior instead of dullness.”
Read Bob’s full account here, and watch a video of Dotty and Harvey below.
“Because you can play on your iPod, that doesn’t make it a toy,” Barnardo continues, fighting his corner admirably. We’re not convinced, and neither is Tomas Chamarro-Premuzic, Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Adults pretend not [to play with] “toys”. They have other substitutes. A car, a mobile phone, a computer, an iPod, cards, quizzes, are all adult versions of toys. Then you have Facebook and Twitter: do you really think that is a serious activity?”
And why should you be ashamed of playing with toys? “You can’t put an age limit on fun” says Kieran Alger, Editor of gadget and gizmo website T3.com. He believes there should be even more toys for grown ups.
“It’d be a better world if there were more toys geared towards adults. Some of the need for adults to ‘play’ has moved online with the huge popularity of games like Farmville and Angry Birds, but imagine a world with bouncy castles for grown ups.”
The value of toys, for adults
The concept of play for adults is an important one, says Nick Gibbs-McNeil, editor of children’s review site Kidzcoolit.com explains. “I think it’s important that adults keep in touch with their Inner Child,” he says.
“Its very easy to forget your roots and where you came from. The first 21 years of your life are the sole reason we are the people we are today. Adults need to keep in contact with the adolescent version of themselves to understand who they really are.”
Playing with toys can also have a positive impact on mental health in later years. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, sufferers with dementia are encouraged to “touch or stroke pieces of fabric, dolls or cuddly toys” to improve sensory stimulation.
For an insight into how toys can change the life of an Alzheimer’s patient, read the heartwarming account of how a toy parrot radically improved the mood and behaviour of one sufferer to the right.
Young or old, humans are designed to have fun. It’s part of our genetic makeup, whether it’s with magic wands, Angry Birds, or a board game. Now, wouldn’t you like to play a game?