Can design improve the lives of people living with dementia? This is one of the questions posed by the latest Design Council Challenge.
Last week, I went to the Design Council to see the winning projects which range from a dementia support dog to an appetite stimulator.
As it is now predicted that as many as one in three of us will experience some form of dementia before we die, this is a very timely project.
Dementia Dog is a service providing assistance dogs to people with dementia, helping them lead more fulfilled, independent and stress-free lives.
A sense of routine can often disintegrate for people with dementia. Dogs can be trained to live to a consistent routine. Ultimately, each dog will be trained with the person with dementia and their carer so all three can operate as a team.
Knowing how important dogs are to many people, this sounds like a good idea though given the investment involved, the number of people who will benefit will presumably be relatively small.
Grouple is a secure, private online social network helping people share the responsibilities of caring for someone with dementia.
Members of a care network easily post their schedules, ideas and experiences of caring, dividing responsibilities and coordinating efforts to provide consistent and regular care without one single person being overburdened.
The Grouple team has thought about people in the care network without access to a computer, suggesting that they use postcards to add information. I’m not sure about this aspect. Would it be better to encourage everyone online?
I like the Grouple and think it has enormous potential. The challenges will be getting the interface right and also making sure the right people are in, and contributing to, the network.
Buddi is a wristband personal alarm that people will be happy to wear and can send alerts from anywhere to buddi’s support services.
The buddiband is comfortable, discreet and waterproof. To avoid battery replacement and daily charging, it is fitted with the most powerful possible rechargeable battery – which offers at least two months of battery life – and is designed to be as power-efficient as can be.
The design of buddi is neat and stylish. The challenge with alert systems is all about the support rather than the technology – who is alerted and why and what happens to the information. A friend of mine regularly removes her care alarm because she finds it annoying and she does not want to inadvertently set it off and “cause a fuss”. I look forward to seeing how this product develops.
Trading Times is an online service that matches carers with local businesses for flexible paid work. It is free to carers and paid for on a transactional basis by employers.
Trading Times will provide carers with access to opportunities to earn, the ability to retain and develop work skills, stay connected with society and maintain a sense of self-worth.
This is a good idea, particularly for the many carers trying to juggle their caring responsibilities with their careers. However, I think employers might need to be convinced why they should choose carers rather than the many people prepared at the moment to work part time who have no such responsibilities (which is why there is dearth of flexible jobs for carers in the first place). Some challenges there to be overcome, I think.
The Ode is a fragrance-release system designed to stimulate appetite among people with dementia. The mains-powered unit releases three food fragrances a day, adjustable to coincide with mealtimes.
The Ode’s designers believe that this discreet system is less stigmatising and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders from carers to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally. Scents are pleasant and evocative and can also improve mood.
This is a nice, simple, relatively low cost consumer product with lots of potential – I really liked it – and the challenge will be in getting it from prototype and testing stages onto the shelves.
Congratulations should go to all the teams involved in getting these projects to this stage and in doing so, demonstrating design’s potential to confront a global problem and change lives for the better.
The next step for all five teams will be turning these interesting ideas into reality. And I wish them all well.
For more information about the Design Council Challenge, go to http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/challenges/Health/Living-well-with-Dementia1/Event/