Joint winner of this year’s Designing for the Future with the University of Brighton was Elicia Oliver-Knox who describes her project, Get to know Irene, here:
While I was doing some research for this Dementia project, a member of staff at The Autumn Lodge Care Home mentioned that the transition period for new residents can be very stressful and sometimes have a negative effect on their health and
well-being. Understandably, a new resident can feel a heightened sense of unrest and confusion when placed in a new home surrounded by unfamiliar faces. As a result, they can withdraw and be reluctant to engage with the other residents. In addition to this, existing residents can also get agitated by the sudden appearance of a strange person.
The product I have designed is a multi-sensory, memory- sharing book to help residents during this transition period. It is designed to spark memories, helping to create connections between an individual and their past and facilitate the formation of friendships through shared experience and nostalgia. The book is filled with information, pictures, sounds and textures related to the life of the new resident. A copy would be given to the care home in advance of the new resident’s arrival, where it can be read and shared among the existing residents. This will help to create a level of familiarity and decrease anxiety levels for residents old and new during this period.
The pages of Irene’s early years and school life feature treasured photographs and memorabilia from that time. To accompany the images, Irene’s family have recounted her experiences in an autobiographical style. This information will help Irene connect to her past, matching dates to places and names to faces.
These highly visual pages not only provide a window into Irene’s life, but offer subjects for discussion and help identify areas of common ground.
Using audio modules, some photographs are accompanied by familiar sounds from her past. For example, the song Irene sang at her first performance in the community choir, her wedding song, and the music she loved to dance to. These audio modules help to make the experience more immersive and relieve the cognitive strain of reading for Dementia sufferers. Auditory stimulation is especially effective for people with Dementia as it enhances a positive mood.
The third source of sensory stimulation in the book is texture. One of Irene’s favourite past-times was sewing, so it seemed fitting that an embroidered handkerchief she made years ago should be set into one of the pages. Providing sensory stimulation for people experiencing Dementia not only recalls memories through association but has been shown to reduce agitation and restlessness.
My idea is that the books should be kept in a communal area of the care home so they are easily accessible to all residents. Carers should make the residents aware that they are there and encourage them to look through them. A second copy must also be given to the person whose life it features, as it will be a constant reminder of who they are and the life they have lived. Care homes could organize social activities and ‘get to know you’ discussions based on what they have learnt of residents through these books.
I approached this project with some hesitation as Dementia is, unfortunately, often considered a taboo subject. I was concerned about asking awkward questions on such a sensitive subject. However, my initial worries were far out-weighed by the strength of my interest in the subject and as the project progressed I didn’t want it to end. I really enjoyed trying to create something I believed could help Dementia sufferers in some way. While developing my product, I met nurses and patients that have first hand experience of this dreadful disease and I found that very humbling. Creating something that nurses thought would genuinely help their patients was very rewarding and the whole process has been a invaluable experience. “